What the Detroit Tigers accomplished in the third inning demonstrated exactly how manager AJ Hinch wants to make opposing teams uncomfortable.
The high-risk, high-reward style of play is the team’s formula for winning in 2021.
Jake Rogers opened the frame with a double down the right-field line. He advanced to third base, thanks to Derek Hill’s perfectly placed bunt — which he reached base on — and scored on Jonathan Schoop’s sacrifice fly. With two outs, Hill swiped second base — his sixth steal in 11 games — before Robbie Grossman completed his four-pitch walk. Hill then scored from second on Miguel Cabrera’s soft single into left field, and Jeimer Candelario punched his 21st double to score Grossman for the team’s third run.
“We continue to find different ways to score,” Hinch said. “That’s the best version of us when we do that.”
Riding momentum from a three-run third inning, the Tigers (43-51) picked up a 7-0 win over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday at Comerica Park to sweep the three-game series. Detroit is 34-27 since May 8.
“Our guys are continuing with the enthusiasm, continuing with the attention to detail, the preparation,” Hinch said. “They’ve completely bought in to what we have to do to win today’s game. As a manager, that’s all you can ask out of your players, is buy in and get the best version of yourself on the field. When we do that, we’re finding baseball is pretty fun to win.”
After losing four in a row to the Twins in Minneapolis to end the first half of the season, the Tigers returned from the All-Star break by taking all three games in Detroit. (A planned fourth game was rained out Friday and will be made up in August.)
On the mound, right-hander Wily Peralta gave the Tigers seven scoreless innings for the second time in three starts. His only blemishes were four hits and four walks. The 32-year-old veteran struck out four batters, worked eight groundouts and fired 49 of 90 pitches for strikes.
“We’re a very confident ballclub with a young group of guys,” Peralta said. “We lost the last series before the break, but we didn’t play that bad. We played really good, especially the first six innings. We knew that we could play better against this team, so that was our mindset coming back to the second half facing them right away.”
Before June 19, he hadn’t started since 2017, but in his past five starts, Peralta owns a 0.34 ERA with eight walks and 17 strikeouts over 26⅔ innings. He has given up one earned run during this span and holds a season-long 1.64 ERA across seven games (six starts).
Relievers Buck Farmer and Alex Lange posted scoreless eighth and ninth innings.
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Peralta settles in
The Twins made Peralta work through the first three innings. Although he only threw 14 pitches in the first inning, 14 in the second and 11 in the third, Minnesota hit the ball hard to all parts of the field. He worked out of jams in all three frames, with help from Candelario’s sharp defense at third base.
By the third inning, Peralta got comfortable with his changeup.
That’s when everything changed.
“He’s good, and he’s been good for us,” Hinch said. “He settled in nicely and did a nice job of pounding the strike zone. … When they didn’t get him early, as he settled in, things got a little smoother for him and he had some really quick innings at the end.”
In the fourth, Peralta struck out Alex Kirilloff with his changeup for the first out. He walked Jorge Polanco, who was thrown out trying to steal second base on a strong throw from Rogers to shortstop Zack Short. Before Rogers’ throw, Max Kepler struck out swinging at a fastball — giving Peralta two outs, followed by one pitch to end the inning.
He retired all three batters in the fifth inning, inducing two groundouts. (He only had two groundouts through the first three innings.) After a four-pitch walk to Josh Donaldson in the sixth, the Tigers turned a 5-6-3 double play. The next batter, Nelson Cruz, grounded out to third base on Peralta’s first-pitch slider.
Peralta threw nine pitches in the seventh inning. Candelario started an inning-ending double play, the fourth with Peralta on the mound. Candelario was involved in three of the four double plays.
“I’m a groundball pitcher, that’s how I consider myself,” Peralta said. “I get a ton of groundballs, so having that defense behind you makes it easy. You trust that you can make pitches to get on the ground when you know the defense is going to make a play.”
Schoop, Candelario smack homers
The Tigers added two runs in the fifth inning with Schoop’s two-run homer for a 5-0 lead. He crushed a fastball from Twins starter J.A. Happ, and the pitch traveled 418 feet to left field. Two innings later, Candelario belted a 419-foot two-run blast to left field.
Candelario’s homer, which came on a changeup from Happ, gave the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
“Everybody on the team is definitely bringing something to the table with the aggression and keeping the pressure on the other team,” Hill said. “I feel like the other side is feeling it a little bit, so we just got to keep this up and keep the ball rolling.”
The long balls were Schoop’s 17th (in 90 games) and Candelario’s sixth (in 84 games) this season. The pair of two-run homers were set up by Akil Baddoo’s single in the fifth and Schoop’s single in the seventh. Happ allowed seven runs on 11 hits and one walk across seven innings.
The Tigers got multi-hit performances from Baddoo, Schoop, Candelario and Hill. Schoop and Candelario each produced three RBIs.
Cabrera continues climb
With Cabrera’s single in the third, the 38-year-old reached 2,929 hits in his 19-year MLB career, one hit away from meeting Jake Beckley and Rogers Hornsby at No. 38 on the all-time hits leaderboard.
Cabrera remains six home runs away from No. 500.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.