What Cleveland did to Detroit Tigers starter Matthew Boyd was precisely what the Tigers wanted to do against Cleveland ace Shane Bieber.
Manager AJ Hinch asked his team to make Bieber, the reigning American League Cy Young winner, battle deep into counts. The Tigers hoped to pressure him into making costly mistakes. They needed to score the first run. And they had to stay positive in their approach at the plate.
But the Tigers (19-31) couldn’t shake Bieber, despite beating him on Opening Day, in a 5-2 loss Thursday at Comerica Park in the series finale. Detroit didn’t get its first hit off Bieber until the seventh inning and has dropped five of its past six games.
The Tigers finished with three hits. Victor Reyes ripped a two-out, two-strike triple to score the team’s second run in the ninth inning.
Bieber allowed one run on one hit and four walks, with 12 strikeouts, across seven innings. It was his 21st double-digit strikeout game. He tossed 66 of his 103 pitches for strikes, generating 24 swings and misses and 19 called strikes. (Of those 24 whiffs, his curveball produced 13 of them.)
His lone flaw came on a 1-0 slider to Jonathan Schoop in the seventh inning. Schoop tagged the pitch for a 402-foot home run to left field, spoiling Bieber’s no-hitter. Before Schoop’s home run, the Tigers seemed well on their way to getting no-hit for the first time since Sept. 23, 2013, when Henderson Alvarez earned his no-hitter at Marlins Park in Miami.
The Tigers only put one runner in scoring position against Bieber.
Robbie Grossman took a four-pitch walk with one out in the sixth inning. He advanced to second base but didn’t make it any further. Harold Castro grounded out and Jeimer Candelario was called out on strikes — Bieber marched back to his dugout.
Runners reached first base in the first and second innings, thanks to one-out walks from Castro and Eric Haase, respectively, but Bieber easily worked out of both innings.
The Tigers’ task of winning the pitching battle doesn’t get easier, as the New York Yankees come to Comerica Park for a three-game series from Friday through Sunday. Gerrit Cole — with a 1.81 ERA through 10 starts — gets the ball for New York in the series opener.
Cleveland scores early
Cleveland scored its first run in the first inning: Jose Ramirez and Harold Ramirez delivered a single and a double, respectively, with two outs. Jose Ramirez singled on a slider to right field, and Harold Ramirez smacked his RBI double on a fastball to the right-center field gap.
Boyd retired seven of the next eight batters, getting him into the fourth inning. Harold Ramirez reached on a throwing error by Candelario at third base, but Boyd bounced back with three consecutive swinging strikeouts.
Eddie Rosario went down on a fastball after an eight-pitch battle. Yu Chang got fooled by a sixth-pitch curveball and Josh Naylor missed at a third-pitch fastball. Still, Boyd needed 20 pitches to get through four batters in the fourth — an example of how Cleveland chipped away and applied pressure.
Boyd used 23 pitches in the first inning, 16 in the second, 12 in the third, 20 in the fourth, 20 in the fifth and 11 without any outs in the sixth. He couldn’t throw strikes at times, falling into seven three-ball counts.
A three-run sixth
His final three-ball count came against Jose Ramirez, who doubled to the left-field corner to start the sixth inning. The next batter, Harold Ramirez, singled up the middle for a 2-0 lead. The ball bounced off the pitcher’s mound and Castro missed it with an outstretched arm.
The Tigers had Bryan Garcia warming in the bullpen, but Hinch left Boyd in the game to face Eddie Rosario, a left-handed hitter. Rosario unleashed a 406-foot two-run homer to right field on a 2-0 slider from Boyd, giving Cleveland a four-run edge.
Then, Hinch walked to the mound to pull Boyd.
The signs of Boyd’s struggles were apartment in the fifth inning, when he walked back-to-back batters with no outs. A fly out put runners on the corners, and Boyd escaped the jam with a double play — from Candelario to Castro to Schoop.
Boyd threw 65 of his 102 pitches for strikes, allowing four runs on six hits and two walks, with five strikeouts, across five-plus innings. He did not record an out in the sixth. Garcia relieved Boyd and created his own troubles but didn’t allow further runs.
The home run from Rosario was the third long ball Boyd allowed in 57⅔ innings this season. (He paced the major leagues with 15 home runs allowed across 60⅓ innings in the 2020 campaign.) Also, the 30-year-old lefty now has a 3.43 ERA in 10 starts, with 15 walks and 47 strikeouts.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.