Detroit Tigers beat rain twice, but lose, 7-3, to Minnesota Twins in series opener at home

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers wasted scoring opportunities in the second and fourth innings, but Willi Castro redeemed strong at-bats from Jeimer Candelario and Miguel Cabrera in the sixth inning Friday with a three-run blast to left field.

Castro cut his team’s deficit to one run, just before a second rain delay.

His blast wasn’t enough for the Tigers (9-24) in a 7-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. The series opener featured two rain delays — for 35 minutes midway through the fifth inning and for 1:09 between the sixth and seventh innings.

The Tigers lost their second in a row, after snapping a six-game skid Wednesday in extra innings against the Boston Red Sox. Detroit has a 3-18 record in the past 21 games. Against the Twins, the Tigers went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

“We had better at-bats tonight to continue on from what we did last series,” manager AJ Hinch said. “That swing by Willi is exactly why you want to hang in there with them and give them a chance to get hot a little bit.”

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After the second rain delay, the Twins added one run each in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Jorge Polanco ripped an RBI double against Jose Cisnero in the seventh. Max Kepler chipped in a solo home run against Daniel Norris in the eighth. In the ninth, Miguel Sano pulled an RBI single to left field on Norris’ fastball.

The Twins were without outfielder Byron Buxton, who opened the season with nine homers and a .370 average in 24 games before going on the 10-day injured list Friday with a right hip strain. A few hours prior, the Tigers placed starting catcher Wilson Ramos on the 10-day injured list with a lumbar spine strain.

Minnesota slugger Nelson Cruz went 0-for-5 with one strikeout.

Detroit plays the second of three games in the series at 4:10 p.m. Saturday. Right-hander Jose Urena is starting, opposed by righty Jose Berrios.

A better Skubal

Left-hander Tarik Skubal had some flaws, but he wasn’t at his worst. He allowed four runs on two hits and two walks. He gave up a leadoff home run to Kyle Garlick (on a 2-2 slider) in the first inning and a leadoff home run to Polanco (on a 1-1 slider) in the second inning. It was an inefficient start, requiring 96 pitches (62 strikes) to complete five innings.

But there were moments when the 24-year-old looked brilliant.

After Garlick’s first-inning blast, Skubal struck out the next three batters: Josh Donaldson (fastball), Cruz (splitter) and Mitch Garver (splitter). He tossed in two more strikeouts — Sano (splitter) and Andrelton Simmons (fastball) — after Polanco’s homer in the second. He finished with eight strikeouts.

“It was more of a changeup tonight, less of a split,” Hinch said. “We’ve been talking to him about it for a long time. We haven’t liked the split usage over the course of the last three or four outings for him. He’s always had a decent changeup, so I think he changed his grip a little bit. It looked pretty effective.”

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Skubal entered Friday with a combined 9.53 ERA over 5⅔ innings in his last two appearances.

But he looked better at Comerica Park. His four-seam fastball velocity jumped to a 94.5 mph average, and his top weapon maxed out at 98.6 mph in the first inning. He used 56 fastballs, 21 splitters, 11 sliders and eight curveballs. Once he gave up the homers with his slider, he went away from that pitch and used a fastball-splitter heavy mix.

“It makes my fastball play way up,” Skubal said. “When I can slow guys down and speed them back up, I think it’s very important for me, especially when I face a lot of righties. Just being able to expand that half of the plate and not have to command my fastball perfectly away because it can play off the changeup. It’s a big pitch for me going forward.”

Of Skubal’s 13 swings and misses, he got seven with his fastball, four with his splitter, one with his slider and one with his curveball. He struck out Garlick swinging on a slider in the fifth inning, but he never fully got a feel for that pitch.

A development moment occurred when Hinch sent Skubal back out for the fifth inning at 85 pitches. Surprisingly, he only needed 11 pitches to get three outs while facing four batters, including Cruz to complete his outing.

Skubal used 19 pitches in the first inning, 24 in the second, 18 in the third, 24 in the fourth and 11 in the fifth. This season, he has a 5.67 ERA through seven games.

“I was over 60 (pitches) after three innings,” Skubal said. “Still not great. Not where I want to be. I want to pitch more efficiently and pitch deeper into ballgames. It helps everyone out. Helps the bullpen out, helps the offense out. Quick innings, guys want to play behind stuff like that.”

After the (first) rain delay

Halfway through the fifth inning, the Tigers and Twins went into a 35-minute rain delay.

Once the teams returned, Shoemaker completed the fifth with two strikeouts. The Trenton product (and Eastern Michigan alum) kept the Tigers from scoring, allowing just four hits and two walks with five strikeouts. He threw 53 of his 86 pitches for strikes, relying on his slider more than his splitter.

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Returning from the rain wasn’t as pleasant for the Tigers. Right-hander Bryan Garcia relieved Skubal and gave up two runs — ignited by back-to-back one-out walks from Polanco and Sano — as the Twins took a 4-0 lead. Polanco scored on Kepler’s single; Sano crossed home plate on Simmons’ groundout.

Finally, Cabrera hits

First baseman Miguel Cabrera, going through the worst slump of his career, snapped an 0-for-27 skid in the second inning with a long single to right field. The ball traveled 336 feet — with a 101.5 mph exit velocity.

But Cabrera, 38, couldn’t get to second base. He settled for a single, but that’s all he needed to escape his hitless streak. The 19-year MLB veteran entered the game with a .098 batting average (6-for-61) through 17 games. Cabrera went 2-for-2 with two walks against the Twins, boosting his batting average to .127.

In the fourth inning, he singled up the middle, giving him back-to-back hits off Shoemaker.

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The second-inning single pushed Cabrera to 2,873 career hits, tying him with Babe Ruth for 45th on MLB’s all-time hits leaderboard. He passed Ruth with his single in the fourth. Along with chasing 3,000 hits, Cabrera is racing to 500 home runs. He is currently 11 long balls away from that historic milestone.

“We all have to take a minute to reflect a little bit,” Hinch said. “I don’t care what generation you were born in, how old you are, how big of a baseball fan you are, you know Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth is synonymous with baseball. Miggy should be very proud.”

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

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