Detroit Tigers’ bullpen gets an extra-long test in 3-2 loss to Milwaukee Brewers in 10th

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch gave Tyler Alexander a soft fist bump on the chest and smiled. The left-handed reliever — starting Monday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers — had just walked away from the on-deck circle and into the dugout.

Nomar Mazara came off the bench to pinch-hit for him in the second inning, following Alexander’s two-strikeout scoreless first inning. Playing at American Family Field, a National League ballpark, Hinch didn’t want his pitcher to bat with two outs and the bases loaded against Corbin Burnes, one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Unfortunately for Hinch, Mazara grounded out and the Tigers (22-32) squandered the early opportunity to disrupt Burnes. With Alexander out, the Tigers burned through six more relievers and lost in extra innings, 3-2, on a walk-off single from Luis Urias in the 10th inning against Jose Cisnero.

“I never complain about having the bases loaded against one of the better pitchers in the league and take a shot to get a couple of runs,” Hinch said. “I would have probably gone two or three innings with Tyler, and then who knows how the game would have played out.

“But our guys did a good job. We had pretty good at-bats. The pitching staff came in and battled. Tough fought game, but we came up short.”

The loss snapped Detroit’s three-game winning streak.

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Akil Baddoo tied the game, 2-2, in the seventh inning with a solo home run off reliever Trevor Richards, who replaced Burnes after six innings of one-run ball. Baddoo pulled his third-pitch changeup to right field for his first home run since April 13 and fifth this season.

The seven pitchers used by the Tigers: Alexander (one inning, zero runs), Joe Jimenez (one inning, zero runs), Rony Garcia (three innings, zero runs), Daniel Norris (one inning, two runs), Kyle Funkhouser (two innings, zero runs), Gregory Soto (one inning, zero runs) and Cisnero (one out, one run).

Facing Burnes

Burnes struggled with his command at times, and the Tigers took advantage in the second inning with a Jonathan Schoop single, Victor Reyes double and Baddoo walk. But Jake Rogers struck out swinging and Mazara grounded out for the second and third outs, respectively.

Burnes wasn’t threatened again until the sixth.

“We’re going to take a shot at trying to score off Corbin Burnes,” Hinch said about pinch-hitting Mazara for Alexander. “It’s hard enough to do it as it is with nobody on, let alone when you got the bases loaded. You’re going to take a shot.”

Even Jeimer Candelario’s double in the third inning, pushing his consecutive on-base streak to 27 games, wasn’t enough. The next batter, Miguel Cabrera, grounded out on the first pitch.

The Tigers put runners on first and second base in the sixth inning, but Cabrera grounded into a double play. Schoop bailed him out by winning a 10-pitch battle — including four foul balls and a near home run —  with Burnes. Schoop singled to center to drive home Harold Castro for a 1-0 lead.

“I feel better,” said Schoop, who upped his batting average to .242 with a 2-for-4 performance. “I’m getting better at-bats, but I was working hard. I know how hard this game is, so that’s why I keep working. Right now, it’s going my way, so I’ve got to maintain it.”

Cabrera finished 0-for-4 with one strikeout, dropping his batting average to .184 across 37 games. He has grounded into eight double plays this season. Burnes completed six innings, allowing one run on six hits and two walks. Milwaukee’s ace struck out six and threw 61 of 93 pitches for strikes. 

Bullpen-only game

Strong defense helped Jimenez in the second inning and Garcia — recalled from Triple-A Toledo after Sunday’s game — in the fourth.

Jimenez avoided damage after back-to-back singles with an irregular 6-4-5 double play, cutting down the lead runners. Garcia pitched a perfect third and received assistance from his catcher in the fourth: Rogers threw out Christian Yelich, who had drawn a walk to open the inning, at second from his knees.

Hinch liked what he saw from Garcia on the mound, so he allowed the 23-year-old to bat with a runner on first in the fifth inning. Garcia’s first career plate appearance ended in a three-pitch strikeout, all on missed bunt attempts.

As disappointing as Garcia’s bunt attempts were, the 2020 Rule 5 draft pick completed his day job — pitching — as perfectly as Hinch could have asked for. He posted three scoreless innings and struck out two batters. The only blemish was his walk to Yelich.

It was Garcia’s 16th appearance in the majors.

“That was unfair to him,” Hinch said about Garcia’s at-bat. “I prefer the DH. We’re an American League team. We prefer the DH. Our pitchers are at a disadvantage because it doesn’t matter how much you practice it or don’t practice it. They’re uncomfortable.

“We have some guys that have at-bats in their careers and things like that, but these are the rules that we play under. We know that. No excuses, but I prefer the DH.”

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Next up, Hinch asked Norris to hold a one-run lead. Before transitioning to the bullpen during the 2020 season, Norris was a starting pitcher. (He has started 83 of 130 career games.) He also crushed a home run in his first career plate appearance in 2015 against the Chicago Cubs.

But Hinch did not give Norris multiple innings, nor did he let him step into the batter’s box in the top of the seventh. Norris needed 23 pitches to complete the sixth. Seven of those pitches were thrown to ex-Tigers prospect Willy Adames, who launched a two-run homer to right field.

Adames crushed a 92 mph fastball on a 3-2 count, giving the Brewers a 2-1 edge, but the Tigers clawed back with a solo shot from Baddoo in the seventh to even the score.

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The final stretch

Once the game reached the late innings, Hinch turned to his most trusted relievers.

That’s why he picked Funkhouser for the seventh and eighth innings. He has allowed just three runs in 12⅔ innings this season, for a 2.13 ERA, despite missing out on making the active roster out of spring training.

Behind improved command and an emphasis on throwing strikes, Funkhouser has earned high-leverage opportunities. He pitched two scoreless innings with four strikeouts, delivering 21 of his 32 pitches for strikes.

“Funk has been steadily getting better every outing,” Hinch said. “We’ve steadily worked him into a very important role in our bullpen, and he continues to respond with quality outings. … We’re watching him grow and mature at this level.”

Hinch went to Soto for a scoreless ninth inning. Cisnero took the ball for the 10th inning and automatically inherited a runner, Omar Narvaez, on second because of the extra innings rule. Keston Hiura advanced Narvaez to third with a sacrifice bunt, and Urias plated Narvaez with a single to right field for the win.

“This game can go both ways,” Schoop said. “You win and you lose. When you lose, you got to take the good things and come back tomorrow.”

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

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