Detroit Tigers’ Zack Short makes statement in 3-1 win in Game 1 vs. Houston Astros

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers know they need a shortstop, but the long-term answer might not arrive until this offseason or, at the earliest, the trade deadline in July. The combination of Niko Goodrum, Willi Castro and Harold Castro hasn’t worked.

As a result of those struggling, the Tigers have a combined minus-15 Defensive Runs Saved — a metric measuring how many runs a player has, or hasn’t, saved on defense — at shortstop in 2021. That’s the worst mark in MLB.

In Saturday’s 3-1 win in Game 1 of the doubleheader, Zack Short presented a demonstration of what it’s like to have a reliable defensive shortstop, as the Tigers improved to 33-43 with their victory over the Houston Astros at Comerica Park.

Game 2 is set for 6:10 p.m.

“Zack played a clean shortstop,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “He did have the one little bobble, but probably a hit either way, but you got to play clean defense around the field. It certainly is important for us as a team to have clean games. When we have starting pitcher that is effective and we play clean defense, we can win some games. Our team is learning that.

Short was called up from Triple-A Toledo as the 27th man for the doubleheader and is competing for a longer stay. He finished 2-for-2 with one double, one home run and two RBIs. (Friday’s contest was postponed because of heavy rainfall in Detroit.)

It was his sixth career game in the majors.

“The contribution today continues to show why we’re always bringing him back when we can,” Hinch said. “One of these days, he doesn’t have to go back. I don’t know when that’s going to be, but his job is to control what he can control.”

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In the second inning, Short took a single away from Robel Garcia. The Tigers were in the shift, and Garcia smacked a ground ball — traveling with a 104 mph exit velocity — between first and second base.

Short wasn’t afraid to get his uniform dirty.

The 26-year-old, acquired at last year’s trade deadline from the Chicago Cubs, showed his defensive instincts with a diving pick. He fired to first baseman Jonathan Schoop to retire Garcia for the second out.

Mize on the mound

Short’s defensive gem helped Tigers starter Casey Mize get through the second without stress. In the first, however, Mize worked out of a jam on his own. Back-to-back singles from Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley on sliders put runners on the corners with no outs.

“After that point, honestly, I just tried to slow the game down,” Mize said. “Literally tried to slow everything down. I was trying to miss bats. Mentally, I was thinking, you know, we need some strikeouts here.”

Mize responded with consecutive strikeouts and a nifty defensive play. He struck out Yuli Gurriel looking with a fastball and got Yordan Alvarez to whiff at another fastball. Then, Mize backhanded a soft comeback from Carlos Correa to end the inning.

By the third inning, his splitter became his go-to offering. He completed six innings, allowing one run on six hits and two walks. He struck out five batters and threw 66 of 101 pitches for strikes. The 24-year-old rookie lowered his ERA to 3.46 across 15 starts this season.

“With Casey, it’s never a surprise to me when he finds a way to beat the opponent,” Hinch said. “Today, he threw the ball very well. Getting out of that early traffic catapulted him forward into a much better frame of mind.”

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The Astros scored their lone run against Mize in the third inning when Correa singled to left field. Mize sent Altuve and Brantley back to the dugout with four pitches but ran into trouble, allowing a single to Gurriel and walking Alvarez.

Correa won a seven-pitch battle to tie the game. (The Tigers scored their first run on a sacrifice fly from Isaac Paredes in the second inning.) After a mound visit from pitching coach Chris Fetter, Mize got Kyle Tucker to ground into an inning-ending force out.

Mize ended his outing by striking out Chas McCormick looking with his splitter, a pitch that delivered Mize four swings and misses and four called strikes.

“He’s a dog,” Short said. “He really is a dog. He doesn’t care who he’s facing. He believes in his stuff. He believes in his process. It’s just awesome to see him go about his business, especially being so young with so much success and pressure of being that 1-1 (draft) pick.”

Short’s day gets better

Facing Astros starter Framber Valdez, who entered Saturday with a 1.67 ERA in five starts, Short placed a third-pitch changeup into the right-field seats for his first MLB home run and a 3-1 Tigers lead in the fifth inning.

The ball traveled 367 feet, with a 97.2 mph exit velocity.

“Definitely blacked out,” Short said. “I hit it pretty well off the bat, but especially for home runs, I rarely go opposite field. When I hit it, it was the right angle to at least be a rapper. I was rounding first and saw Tucker jump. I was just hoping that pretty big wall over there was high enough.”

The home run came two innings after Short pummeled Valdez’s fastball for a double to center field. That ball traveled 398 feet, with a 103.4 mph exit velocity. He tried advancing to third base on a one-out grounder to shortstop but was easily thrown out.

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Short put his top tools — sneaky power, plate discipline and above-average defense — on display in his day-long return to the Tigers.

“You can never complain about getting a call to the big leagues,” Short said. “I’m in a fortunate situation where, if I’m not playing in the big leagues, I’m playing every day in Triple A. Not a lot of people out there can say that. As soon as I feel bad for myself, the game will let you know that the game owes you nothing.”

Cisnero completes win

After Mize completed the sixth inning, Tigers manager AJ Hinch turned to Jose Cisnero for the final frame in Game 1 of the doubleheader. He went three up, three down to secure the win.

Jason Castro saw eight pitches but popped out. Cisnero punched out Altuve looking with a slider, and Brantley struck out swinging at a fastball for the final out.

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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