Two positives, one negative from Detroit Tigers win that has AJ Hinch ‘really proud’

Detroit Free Press

AJ Hinch had a smile on his face, and rightfully so.

The Detroit Tigers just won back-to-back games for the first time since April 13-14. The offense, for the sixth game in a row, proved it’s very much alive. His best starter, Matthew Boyd, dealt six scoreless innings. Rookie Alex Lange tossed a six-pitch, six-strike seventh inning.

“We had played so well, the entire game,” Hinch said after Tuesday’s 8-7 win over the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park, improving to 11-24. “Really good at-bats in those couple innings and even the other opportunities. I was really proud of our guys.

“Slowly they chiseled away at that lead with a couple of big swings.”

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The Tigers were ahead 7-0 entering the eighth inning. Kansas City’s Jorge Soler crushed a three-run homer in the eighth inning off Joe Jimenez. He added a three-run double in the ninth inning — after Ryan O’Hearn’s RBI single — to tie the game against Jose Cisnero. Before Soler’s double, shortstop Niko Goodrum made a fielding error with two outs.

Hinch called on left-hander Gregory Soto for the final out in the top of the ninth. Despite walking a batter, he struck out Hunter Dozier with a slider. The Tigers scored in the bottom of the frame on Robbie Grossman’s walk-off single.

“We’re still in the fight,” Hinch said. “When I went out to the mound to put Soto in, if we get this last out with Soto, we got a chance to win. We’ve got to keep that positive energy going. Obviously, Niko gets on to lead-off the inning, Akil (Baddoo) has a nice at-bat and then Robbie comes up with the big hit, and we go home winners.

“We played well tonight. I know it doesn’t feel that way because the game got really close there, but I was proud of our effort.”

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While the bullpen implosion and Grossman’s heroics stole the headlines, Boyd was the story of the game. He continues to pitch better than ever before in his career. He dominated the Royals, despite missing his last start with left knee tendinitis.

He gave up four hits — all singles — and two walks across his six scoreless innings. He struck out five batters. He generated 12 swings-and-misses with his four-seam fastball (five whiffs), changeup (four), slider (two) and curveball (one).

Boyd tossed 59 of his 92 pitches for strikes.

“He had to battle a little bit,” Hinch said. “He wasn’t as sharp as he’s been, yet he still threw six scoreless innings. His effort was tremendous. He didn’t execute perfectly, but he mixed his pitches well and executed when he needed to.”

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Boyd needed 13 pitches in the first inning, 19 in the second, 11 in the third, 21 in the fourth, eight in the fifth and 20 in the sixth. He got inning-ending double plays from Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield in the third and fifth, respectively.

“He had a really short inning where he got some quick outs,” Hinch said. “I think that helped him. He looked a little fatigued at the end to me. I’m not sure if he’ll ever admit that, but he hadn’t pitched in a while. It was a good performance.”

During the Tigers’ four-run fourth inning, Boyd sat on the bench for 26 minutes.

He wasn’t rattled.

“That’s the goal every inning, just to go out there and attack,” Boyd said.

Not pitching in 11 days didn’t bother him, either.

“Mentally, it doesn’t change,” Boyd said. “You’re out there attacking. Physically, it’s doing everything you can to keep your body loose and avoid it from tightening up.”

Through seven starts, Boyd has a 1.94 ERA, nine walks and 29 strikeouts in 41⅔ innings. He has only allowed one home run, after leading MLB with 15 in 2020 and pacing the American League with 39 in 2019. He had a 6.71 ERA last season.

The Tigers finished with eight runs on 12 hits and six walks. The team’s nine strikeouts marked the second game in a row in single digits. Grossman, Harold Castro, Jonathan Schoop and Baddoo each recorded two hits, and all 10 players — that includes pinch-hitter Jake Rogers — reached base safely at least once.

The offense has more to prove after going silent for a 17-game stretch, which included 15 losses.

“The more good at-bats we put together, the better chance we have of scoring runs,” Grossman said. “Going forward, that’s just something we have to do. That has to be our identity, to put together good at-bats. Good things will happen.”

Across six games from May 4-11, the Tigers went 66-for-220 (.300) with 40 runs, 30 walks and 58 strikeouts. They are 3-3 during that stretch.

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In the fourth inning, the Tigers scored four runs on Schoop’s triple, two walks, four singles and one sacrifice fly. Willi Castro, Baddoo, Grayson Greiner and Grossman collected RBIs. Goodrum and Miguel Cabrera drew walks, while Harold Castro tossed in a single for the final punch to chase Royals starter Brady Singer. (In the fifth, Greiner departed from the game with left hamstring tightnesses.)

Entering Tuesday, Singer had a 1.44 ERA with three walks and 24 strikeouts in four starts against the Tigers in his career. The 24-year-old finally stumbled Tuesday, allowing four runs on seven hits and two walks. The Tigers added three runs against Kansas City’s bullpen in the fifth inning, courtesy of Grossman’s base-clearing triple.

“We’ve put up some really good at-bats,” Grossman said. “Pass the baton. You’re hitting for the guy behind you is what it ultimately comes down to. We’ve just got to keep that going.”

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Even when the Royals tied the game, the Tigers didn’t go away. In the bottom of the ninth, Goodrum was hit by a pitch, and Baddoo took a four-pitch walk from Royals reliever Scott Barlow.

Grossman capped it off, turning a 95 mph fastball into a walk-off single.

“I was like, ‘The heater is going to show up at some point,'” Grossman said. “I had it in the back of my mind, and it showed up. I put a decent enough swing on it to get it through. I’m just glad that we won this ballgame. We played good enough to win.”

The Tigers gave the ball to Jimenez in the eighth inning solely because the score was 7-0, what seemed like the ultimate cushion with only six outs remaining. Jimenez is an ex-All-Star and ex-closer who was cut from the roster out of spring training. He got called up, got sent down and, on Saturday, got called back up. His results this season, entering Wednesday: two games, one inning, five runs, zero hits and seven walks for a 45.00 ERA.

Called on to protect a seven-run lead, Jimenez allowed a seven-pitch walk to Nicky Lopez. Ryan O’Hearn was called out on strikes for the first out. Jimenez walked Carlos Santana on four pitches. He came back with a strikeout before Soler pounded a hanging slider for a three-run home run.

The next batter, Andrew Benintendi, drew a walk to end Jimenez’s night. (Kyle Funkhouser needed four pitches to end the top of the eighth inning.) He now has a 43.20 ERA. As for the other categories: three games, 1⅔ innings, eight runs, two hits and nine walks. He has four strikeouts.

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Against the Royals, Jimenez allowed three runs on two hits and two walks. That’s not a good sign. Jimenez had a 7.15 ERA in 2020. In his five-year MLB career, his lowest ERA was 4.31 in his 2018 All-Star year.

The Tigers’ bullpen has a league-worst 6.79 ERA.

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

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