Detroit — Win or lose, it’s a fun brand of baseball the Tigers are playing these days.
“It’s exciting, man,” center fielder Derek Hill said after the Tigers completed the three-game sweep of the division-rival Minnesota Twins with a 7-0 win Sunday at Comerica Park.
“Everybody on this team is bringing something to the table with the aggression and keeping pressure on the other team. I feel like the other side is feeling it a little bit. We just have to keep it up.”
There was tangible evidence of that in the pivotal third inning Sunday.
The game was scoreless and Tigers starter Wily Peralta was laboring. The Twins put the first two runners on. Peralta had to that point struggled to find a feel for his split-change, a critical pitch against the five left-handers in the Twins lineup.
He found it just in time to strikeout Trevor Larnach for the first out.
“My arm was a little bit lazy on the change-up,” Peralta said. “Our pitching coach Chris (Fetter) talked to me about that and warming up for the third inning, I started to find it. That’s the pitch that’s going to help me through the season if I can stay consistent with it.”
That brought Nelson Cruz to the plate. In the same situation last Thursday in Minnesota, Cruz hit a ground ball to third base. Jeimer Candelario tried to start the double play at second base and the relay throw to first was late. That led to the eventual winning run.
On Sunday, Peralta got Cruz to hit another ground ball to Candelario. This time he stepped on third and threw to first himself to complete the double play. Inning over.
“This is a weird sport,” manager AJ Hinch said. “They swept us last week (in Minnesota) and handled us and handled our bullpen. We come back this weekend and sweep them. Part of it is just baseball and part of it is reacting to plays the right way.
“We had five outs that were extra outs, two on the bases and three on double-play balls. Five outs in a 27-out game that you take away from your opponent is going to make a big difference.”
They turned four double plays, three of them started by Candelario.
Then the Tigers unleashed their running game, going all 1980s St. Louis Cardinals against Twins lefty starter J.A. Happ in the bottom half of the third.
Jake Rogers led off with a hustle double, getting to second on a looping liner down the line in right. Hill followed with a bunt single, sending Rogers to third. Rogers scored on a sacrifice fly by Jonathan Schoop.
Hill stole second and Robbie Grossman walked. Hill scored on a single by Miguel Cabrera, outrunning the throw from Luis Arraez from shallow left-center field. Grossman scored on a double by Candelario.
“Pressure matters,” Hinch said. “We put a lot of pressure on guys. It gave us an opportunity to take a few risks here and there, whether it’s stealing a base or sending Derek Hill on Miggy’s single. … Speed made up the difference there.
“Pressure comes in a lot of different ways — running the bases and the threat of running the bases. It’s why we start runners so much — they have to defend what we don’t do as much as they have to defend what we do.”
Hill was drafted into the organization (2014) at a time when the big-league club was built on power — power bats and power arms. Hill’s skill set, speed, elite defense was an outlier. Now his skill set is very much at the center of how Hinch is trying to build this team.
“It’s great, to be honest,” Hill said. “I love being able to go out there and show every single one of my tools. And it’s the same for everyone of my teammates. They’re able to go out there and be themselves. That’s the biggest key to a winning team — just letting the people be themselves.”
The Tigers put the Twins away with some power ball.
Schoop (his 17th) and Candelario (sixth) each hit monster two-run homers to left field off Happ. Schoop’s went 418 feet, Candelario’s 419 feet.
“I just know that guys in our dugout are taking care of what they can take care of,” Hill said. “Everyone stayed with the plan the team came up with and we executed it. It was a lot of fun.”
Peralta, in his sixth start with the Tigers, allowed just four hits in seven scoreless innings. Over his last five starts, he’s allowed one earned run in 26⅔ innings. He induced seven groundball outs, three groundball double plays and one strikeout-throw out double play with catcher Rogers.
Candelario had eight assists, two of them were critical. He alertly threw out Larnach at second base on a relay play from left field to kill a budding rally in the first inning. Then he ended the seventh with a brilliant backhand play in the hole at shortstop (playing in the shift) on a slicing ground ball off Max Kepler’s bat, making a quick throw to second to start the double play.
Peralta was asked after if he was going to buy Candelario a beer for all his efforts.
“Jeimer is a Christian, he doesn’t drink,” he said, smiling. “I might have to get a juice for him.”