How Detroit Tigers displayed ‘our identity’ in win against Seattle Mariners

Detroit Free Press

It’s hard to imagine a more complete effort for the Detroit Tigers than Tuesday’s win.

Starter Matthew Boyd pitched six innings. Center fielder Derek Hill and left fielder Akil Baddoo made epic plays to save runs. Hometown slugger Eric Haase smacked another home run, but runs were also created on the bases with aggressiveness and speed.

The bullpen, headlined by an escape from Daniel Norris, kept late-game damage low.

“We have this version of us in us,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said after Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the Seattle Mariners at Comerica Park. “It’s nice when it all comes together and we put a good game together and get rewarded with a win.”

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Still, the Tigers (25-35) weren’t perfect. Look no further than the second inning for a few examples. Baddoo took a bad route on a fly ball that dropped for a double, and the runner scored on a fielding error by second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

Boyd deserved to go three up, three down in the second. Instead, he gave up his only run — unearned — in a 30-pitch inning.

Another example of imperfection: Reliever Joe Jimenez loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth inning, throwing just three of 11 pitches for strikes. But the Tigers don’t need to be perfect to win games.

They just need to avoid an abundance of self-inflicted miscues.

“You can see the trends in the pitching staff, you can see the trends in the bullpen, you can see the trends on the base path, you can see the trends in the bats, trends in how we play defense,” Boyd said. “It continues to evolve, and guys are coming into their own. It’s special, and it starts at the top.”

Boyd isn’t talking about owner Christopher Ilitch or general manager Al Avila. He is talking about the leadership provided by Hinch, who entered spring training and demanded his team play a winning brand of baseball.

The results were poor in April, with an 8-19 record, but those failures yielded understanding and growth.

Since April ended, the Tigers are 17-16.

“We’re starting to find our identity in that overall identity,” Boyd said. “We’re grateful to have AJ at the helm and grateful for all the time that our staff has put into the blueprint for who we are, and we’re going to continue to grow. We’re going to continue to advance and move the needle.”

The Tigers scored three runs in the first inning on Mariners starter Marco Gonzales. Miguel Cabrera, playing in his 2,500th career game, singled to score Robbie Grossman, and Haase — in the cleanup spot — smoked his eighth home run in 20 games this season over the wall in left field.

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A fourth run was added in the second, thanks to small ball. Niko Goodrum singled and advanced to second base on a deep fly out to center field. He took off for third base, recording his 11th steal in 2021, and scored on Hill’s one-out single to left field for a 4-1 lead.

At the epicenter of Detroit’s web gems was Mitch Haniger, robbed of RBI doubles in the second and fourth innings.

Baddoo darted toward the left-field corner to make a lunging catch to end the second, stranding runners on first and second base. The Mariners put runners on first and second again with two outs in the fourth, and Haniger belted a changeup to the left-center field gap.

But Hill, the best defensive outfielder in the organization, sprinted to make the catch.

“My job is throwing the ball,” Boyd said. “I can’t really worry about good or bad with what’s behind me. But it does feel nice when you give up a ball that you’re going, ‘Oh, man, that ball is running away in the gap.’ And all of a sudden, you just see him in stride running that thing down. It’s pretty special, and he’s super talented.”

[ Tigers reward Derek Hill by offering opportunity to ‘stick’ in majors ]

Hill gave his assessment of the catch: “We had a pretty good idea of where he was going to hit the ball with our position card and everything like that, so I tip my cap to the analytic people because they put me in the right spot.”

And Hill helped the Tigers tack on a run in the fifth inning for a 5-1 lead. He singled to start the inning and worked a one-out steal — his third stolen base in a three-game span — to get into scoring position. Schoop drove him home with a single to center field.

“When he gets on base, he’s a real threat,” Hinch said about Hill. “But tonight, the defense was spectacular. He brought it all together and showed why we’re high on him being a potential big leaguer for a while.”

Boyd improved his record to 3-6 this season and lowered his ERA to 3.56 with six strong innings in his 12th start. He gave up one unearned run on six hits and one walk, with three strikeouts. Kyle Funkhouser pitched a scoreless seventh.

Jimenez allowed two runs without earning an out in the eighth.

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Norris entered in a bases-loaded, no-out jam.

“D-No came in with no margin for error,” Hinch said. “We talked about him not worrying about the guy on third or the guy on second.”

He generated a 4-6-3 double play, conceded a double to Taylor Trammell and struck out Jack Mayfield swinging on three pitches to escape Jimenez’s mess. He has fired scoreless innings in eight of his past 10 appearances.

Then, Jose Cisnero picked up his second career save in the ninth inning. He punched out J.P. Crawford with three pitches and Haniger with seven pitches. In Cisnero’s past 10⅔ innings across 11 appearances, he carries a 0.84 ERA, two walks and 14 strikeouts.

“A lot of confidence,” Hinch said. “He’s been one of our better guys and, slowly but surely, he’s been able to get some of his numbers down a little bit to where they belong. He’s effective against righties and lefties, and he’s got a calm heartbeat.”

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

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