Tigers manager AJ Hinch issues a rare free pass, and it pays off

Detroit News

Boston — So much happened Wednesday night in the Tigers’ 6-5, 10-inning win over the Red Sox, we need to look back at it one more time before moving forward.

Hinch did what?

The last time manager AJ Hinch issued an intentional pass was late in the 2019 playoffs when he waved red-hot Nationals slugger Juan Soto on to first. He hadn’t done it in a regular-season game since Aug. 17, 2018, when he put Oakland’s Jed Lowrie on.

“Just a little Stanford love for him there,” Hinch, the Stanford grad, joked. “I’m not sure what happened in that scenario but now that I’m hearing it, I kind of regret it.”

He was told that Khris Davis followed and flew out to end the inning.

“Oh, then it was a great move,” he said, laughing.

Things were much more tense Wednesday night when, with lefty Gregory Soto on the mound, Hinch issued the intentional pass to J.D. Martinez to load the bases with two outs in a 3-3 game in the bottom of the ninth. With another dangerous hitter, Xander Bogaerts, coming up.

The sting of Martinez’s game-tying home run in the seventh inning off Bryan Garcia was still fresh in Hinch’s mind and he made the move without hesitation.

“Obviously, I don’t love (walking people) in general, just because of how much it can bring in other areas,” Hinch said. “And you pick your poison between J.D. and Xander. Those guys are both incredible hitters. But J.D. crushes lefties a little more than Bogaerts.”

What Hinch hated about that, though, was loading the bases and bringing the winning run to third base — a run that could score with a wild pitch, walk or an error. And with the electricity of Soto’s stuff, a wild pitch is always in play.

“I’ll tell you when I got the most nervous,” Hinch said. “When he went 2-1 to Bogaerts. The 2-1 pitch was the most critical pitch in the entire at-bat. Going to 3-1 brings in the walk and they can score without getting a hit. That’s what you bring into play by loading the bases — no room for error.”

But, as Hinch pointed out, there’s no room for error against Martinez, either. Which is why his poison in that situation was Soto vs. Bogaerts. Bogaerts lined the 2-1 pitch, a 98-mph sinker, into left field where Robbie Grossman, ducking under the lights and the mist, made a running, sliding catch.

“I just didn’t want any part of J.D. Martinez,” Hinch said. “I learned my lesson in the last at-bat when he hit that homer. It’s rare for me (to issue a free pass), but it’s going to happen.”

It’s about conviction

Tigers rookie right-hander Casey Mize earned his second straight quality start Wednesday, allowing just three hits and a run through six innings. He left the game with a 3-1 lead after working out some pretty thick soup in the sixth inning.

“Casey’s really good,” Hinch said. “I know we have a microscope on him, but he can handle those moments.”

He walked Martinez and gave up a hard single to right to Bogaerts to start the inning. But he was unfazed. He jammed Christian Vazquez with a hard two-seamer that bore in on him (foul pop to first) and got left-handed hitting Marwin Gonzalez to roll over a splitter, again to first base.

His next pitch, though, hit Christian Arroyo on the hand, loading the bases. It was the kind of mistake that has unnerved Mize before, as recent as his last start in Chicago when a mistake on a 1-2 pitch to Jake Lamb knocked him off the rails for a couple of hitters.

While the hit-by-pitch was being reviewed, Mize and catcher Grayson Greiner had a conversation before right-handed hitter Hunter Renfroe stepped in.

“I’d just hit him in the hand and we’re like, should we go slider away or go back in?” Mize said. “In my head, I was like, let’s just go right back in. I feel confident. Some guys might shy away, like, ‘Oh, I just hit a guy to load the bases, I don’t want to go back in.’

“No. I was confident going right back in.”

Which he did, with another hard two-seamer, getting Renfroe to bounce out to third base.

“I think the way he’s handled a few of his outings this year, especially late in his outings, he’s got a great focus and a great burn to do well,” Hinch said. “You do develop that feel, that gut feel, for what your guy can do, the more you leave him out there.

“Now, it’s dangerous. Those are critical at-bats, but he did earn the opportunity tonight with some semblance of reliability from the last time.”

Don’t call it a sinker

Statcast reads two-seam fastballs as sinkers. But if you look at the location grid of where Mize placed the majority of the 34 two-seamers he threw Wednesday, they were up in the zone and in on hitters.

“They classify two-seamers as sinkers and it’s just true,” Mize said. “A true sinker, Jose Urena throws a true sinker. To classify what I throw as the same as what he throws, it’s a completely different pitch.”

It is, but it was a major weapon for him against the Red Sox.

“I was pleased with the fastballs today,” Mize said. “I was able to throw both the four-seam and the two-seam to both sides of the plate, up and down. That was a big part of our game plan going into the game, so I’m pretty pleased to execute that.

“The ability to pitch inside makes them uncomfortable and opens up the rest of the plate.”

What are you doing?

It wasn’t as reckless as it may have first looked. After Jeimer Candelario’s three-run home run in the top of the 10th, Niko Goodrum singled and stole second and was in scoring position with one out. Then it looked like he got greedy. He got picked off and then tagged out in a rundown trying to steal third.

And when the Red Sox came charging back in the bottom of the 10th, that lost opportunity looked regrettable. But it was a calculated play, just mistimed.

“We’d keyed on some things we thought we could exploit if we got the opportunity,” Hinch said.

One of those things was that Red Sox reliever Garrett Whitlock doesn’t usually hold the ball long before going to the plate with runners on base.

“Niko was just a fraction early on a key that we had to steal third and he would’ve had it pretty easily,” Hinch said. “It was a situation to be aggressive. But (Whitlock) held the ball just a little longer than he had in any previous pitch over his last few outings.”

All he had to do was step off and throw to third.

“Credit them for varying their look, but we can’t just sit around and expect to go base to base,” Hinch said.

Give him the belt

On a normal night, Mize would have gotten the WWE Championship belt for pitcher of the game Wednesday, but Urena, the reigning champ, gave it to Michael Fulmer instead. And got no pushback from anybody.

“Jose said, ‘Really nice start by Casey, but we wouldn’t have won the game without Mike. Congratulations on your first career save,’” Mize said. “I felt the same. Just super pumped for Michael. He’s got a win as a starter, a hold and now a save. Pretty interesting.”

Fulmer, who started and threw 33 pitches on Tuesday, stranded the tying run on second base getting Bobby Dalbec to hit a soft liner at Candelario at third and then struck out Kiki Hernandez, freezing him with a 97-mph two-seamer.

Fulmer is the first pitcher in club history to start one game and earn a save in the next.

What a night.

On deck: Twins

Series: Three games at Comerica Park, Detroit

First pitch: Friday — 7:10 p.m.; Saturday — 4:10 p.m.; Sunday — 1:10 p.m.

TV/radio: All three games are BSD/97.1 FM

Probables: Friday — RHP Matt Showmaker (1-3, 7.83) vs. LHP Tarik Skubal (0-4, 6.14); Saturday — RHP Jose Berrios (3-2, 3.58) vs. RHP Jose Urena (1-4, 3.53); Sunday — RHP Kenta Maeda (2-2, 5.34) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (2-3, 2.27).

Shoemaker, Twins: The Trenton native and Eastern Michigan University product has dominated his hometown team throughout his career, posting a 5-1 record with a 3.18 ERA and 0.745 WHIP in seven starts. He got the win at Comerica Park on April 5, allowing a run and three hits in six innings.

Skubal, Tigers: It’s been a grind for him so far this season, as he searches to re-establish the power element of his arsenal. He’s given up eight home runs in 22 innings and opponents are slugging .609 against him with a .978 OPS.


Twitter: @cmccosky

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