Same story for Detroit Tigers: Starter Jose Urena is electric, but offense gets shut out

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch doesn’t consider Jose Urena‘s start on Sunday a wasted effort. The Tigers need their starting pitchers to execute as often as possible, considering their offensive struggles.

So, Hinch prefers to think of Urena’s start as a missed opportunity.

“He was in complete control,” Hinch said. “I mean, he was incredible. It’s a game where he pitched well enough to win.”

But the Tigers (8-21) didn’t, despite Urena allowing just two runs on three hits, one walk and seven strikeouts. They lost their fifth game in a row while getting swept by the New York Yankees in Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Yankee Stadium. It’s the sixth time the Tigers have been shut out this season.

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The offense — with a league-worst .199 batting average — generated two hits and one walk, with 12 strikeouts. Yankees starter Corey Kluber delivered eight scoreless innings, while closer Aroldis Chapman picked up his sixth save with a perfect ninth inning.

“We’re searching for everything,” Hinch said. “As much as it’s about Kluber, it’s also about us. I mean, I know you’re having a hard time asking me the questions. I’m having a hard time coming up with different ways to describe it.”

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Urena gave up his only two runs in the second inning — on an RBI double from Kyle Higashioka and a sacrifice fly from Brett Gardner.

He went up and in against Higashioka with a 96.2 mph sinker in a 0-2 count. The result was an impressive, almost unbelievable, swing that drove the ball down the left-field line. It just barely stayed in fair territory, giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead.

“It’s kind of my (loss), too,” Urena said. “We’re teammates. I lost, too. Everybody lost. Everybody tried to keep their composure and stay aggressive and do the things they have to do.”

Beginning with Gardner’s sacrifice fly, Urena retired the final 17 batters he faced. He struck out two of three batters in the sixth inning and three batters in the seventh inning. Between the last two innings of his outing, he punched out Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela, Aaron Hicks and Mike Ford.

Urena tossed 64 of his 100 pitches for strikes. He got 11 swings-and-misses to go with 25 called strikes, meaning he wasn’t afraid to pound the strike zone to get ahead in counts, even against some of the best hitters in the American League.

“He still had a lot left,” Hinch said. “If it hadn’t been for the off day (Monday), and (Gregory) Soto hadn’t pitched in four days, he could have easily gone out there and continued to throw. He was as locked in at the end as he was at the beginning.”

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Yet Urena’s performance didn’t matter — because the Tigers did not score. It’s the fourth start in a row Urena has completed seven innings, but he only has one win in those games. He owns a 3.53 ERA through six starts.

The rotation entered Sunday with a 4.15 ERA, 15th in the majors.

Now check the overall record.

The Tigers field the worst team in baseball.

“It’s hard,” catcher Wilson Ramos, second on the team with a .218 batting average, said. “I’ve been talking to my guys as a team, and I’m really frustrated to not give good support to them, especially when they throw like Urena today and Urena in the past starts. Those guys have been throwing really good and not getting support by us. It’s really frustrating.”

Hinch added: “Losing the way we’re losing is bad. It doesn’t make it worse, better, easier or harder. At the end of the day, you either won or you lost, and we’ve lost a lot. How we’ve gotten there is no better one way than the other.”

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The offense is hitting .173 (89-for-513) with 30 runs, 30 walks and 183 strikeouts in the last 17 games.

Candelario (team-leading .278 average) picked up one of two hits against Kluber, but he also struck out three times. Kluber recorded 10 strikeouts and worked his changeup masterfully. His changeup generated 13 of his 20 swings-and-misses.

Chapman tossed in two strikeouts against the three batters he faced. He sent down Miguel Cabrera swinging on three pitches, with a third-pitch 101.6 mph sinker, for the final out to complete New York’s sweep.

Cabrera went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and hasn’t recorded a hit since Tuesday. The 38-year-old, considered the team’s leader, is hitting .115 through 15 games. Rule 5 draft pick Akil Baddoo is down to a .203 batting average following a 0-for-3, two-strikeout afternoon.

“I can leave guys out there to pitch six, seven and eight innings all the time,” Hinch said. “When they match quality with that, that gives us an opportunity to get something started offensively and create a little bit of momentum our way. Maybe steal one of these wins soon.”

That’s the reality for Hinch’s team into the second month of the regular season. There are 133 games remaining, and at some point, the offense must make even a small improvement, right?

The Tigers desperately hope so.

“It is what it is right now,” Ramos said. “We have to try to turn the page, try to stay positive and go out there in Boston and play better baseball. That’s what we need to do. That’s what we have to do.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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