How Detroit Tigers proved their toughness: ‘We’re a good team’

Detroit Free Press

The Texas Rangers arrived at Comerica Park with back-to-back shutouts hanging over them, seeking to escape a putrid start to the second half of the season. Across the diamond, the Detroit Tigers were fresh off a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins.

“They call them trap series for a reason,” manager AJ Hinch said before Monday’s four-game series opener. “We’re trending in the right direction, and they’re on the opposite end of that, so be careful. If you don’t do your job today, you can quickly give them the momentum back.”

But the Tigers (44-51) weren’t tripped up.

The Tigers punched the Rangers — like a boxer smacking around a weaker opponent leaning on the rope — for a 14-0 win. The offense battered Kyle Gibson, considered one of the best pitchers in the American League, for eight runs on 10 hits and two walks over five innings. (In two starts against Detroit this season, Gibson is 0-2 with a 10.32 ERA over 11⅓ innings.)

“We just did a lot of things to put pressure on them,” Hinch said. “We kept taking whatever the game gave us and continued to pile on. I’ve been on both sides of it, and this side of it is a lot more fun. But we just kept having quality plate appearances.”

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The Tigers used quick jabs to deliver their biggest blow with a seven-run sixth inning: walk, single, single, single, single, single, single, walk, walk. All nine players reached safely, chasing Gibson and reliever Brett Martin, before the Rangers earned their first out.

Monday marked the first time Detroit had at least nine consecutive batters reach base to start an inning since the ninth inning Aug. 8, 2001, in Texas.

“We took every at-bat very aggressively,” said Victor Reyes, who finished 4-for-5 in his first start since June 1. “Attacking the strike zone, having good contact in early counts, that was part of the key for our win today.”

A two-run homer from AL Rookie of the Year candidate Akil Baddoo set the tone in the third inning, giving the Tigers a 2-0 lead. The first punch is often the most important. The margin grew to 6-0 at the end of the fifth inning, then to 13-0 at the end of the sixth. The final run scored in the seventh.

The Tigers totaled 19 hits (15 singles) and six walks. Seven players recorded multi-hit performances, including Miguel Cabrera going 2-for-4 with five RBIs. The pitching staff — starter Casey Mize (another Rookie of the Year contender) and relievers Joe Jimenez, Daniel Norris, Buck Farmer and Ian Krol — held the Rangers to four hits without a walk.

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Mize pitched the four innings. He allowed one hit and struck out two batters. The 24-year-old has an innings limits, but should be back to a full workload near the end of July, according to Hinch’s most recent update.

“We’ll see if this is his last outing doing that or not,” Hinch said.

“I definitely wanted to go out there for more,” Mize said. “But we’re limiting innings right now, so I’m on board with that. It’s just, as a competitor, I want to pitch as many innings as I can. It is what it is.”

What does this mean?

Beating the Rangers (35-59) by 14 runs doesn’t shoot the Tigers into the postseason conversation. Texas has been blanked in three consecutive games by a total score of 29-0.

Back in April, though, the Tigers were the Rangers.

For the past four years, the Tigers were the team everyone waited to feast on. With Hinch at the helm, getting beaten to a pulp is no longer acceptable. Detroit is 35-27 since May 8 and 4-0 since returning from the All-Star break, now sitting 9½ games back of a wild-card spot.

“We’re a good team,” Mize said. “I think that’s what we’re learning. I think a lot of people are learning that, that we are a good team.”

After an 8-19 record in April, the Tigers went 14-13 in both May and June.

They’re off to an 8-6 start in July.

“I’ve always been the one to learn from failure, apply that and try to avoid that failure at that large of a scale by learning from it so much,” Mize said. “I think our team did that. We had a rough April. We knew we needed to get better and avoid months like that. It is a resilient group.

“You mentioned (being) young, and we’re trying to figure this thing out together. It’s definitely been exiting for all of us. It’s been really fun last couple of months, but we got to keep it rolling.”

One of the best moments occurred Saturday, when 31,624 fans showed up for Cabrera’s walk-off bloop single to beat the Twins in extra innings. The Tigers are 25-22 at Comerica Park, and that night was something special. The crowd felt alive for the time in a long time.

“Doing it at home is very critical,” Hinch said. “These are the people that supported us through some down times and ultimately are going to be there for us when we turn this thing around. … Our job is to provide quality baseball. It’s what this franchise deserves. It’s what this community deserves.”

The Tigers are having fun by scoring runs with speed on the bases, sacrifice bunts and prepared plate appearances to produce singles and draw walks. They rank second in the AL (fourth in MLB) with 59 stolen bases this season. Baddoo, the leadoff hitter, has swiped 14 in 17 attempts, along with hitting five triples; Derek Hill has six steals in 11 games.

Hinch manages to his team’s strengths, not baseball norms, to come out on top.

“When we have team speed, we’re going to use it,” Hinch said. “When we don’t, we’re not going to use it. We’re not just going to run to run. As much as I want to say I love to manage that way, it’s because of the personnel that we have. … We can be as athletic as any team in baseball, so we should apply as much pressure as any team in baseball.

“Our defense has been better. We’ve had some personnel changes. We’ve also had some hard work go on for the last three or four months to put us in a good position.”

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Yet Hinch’s squad isn’t just taking care of business against the lowly Rangers and Twins (40-54). Leading up to the All-Star break, the Tigers won series against the St. Louis Cardinals (47-47), Cleveland (47-44), Chicago White Sox (57-37) and Rangers in Texas, as well as splitting a four-game set with the 57-38 Houston Astros.

The momentum came to a halt in the final four games of the first half, losing four in a row to the Twins in Minneapolis. A gritty response set in motion a three-game sweep of the Twins in Detroit coming out of the break, including two of the three shutouts over the past four games.

There’s no doubt Hinch’s winning culture has been instilled. The Tigers aren’t the Rangers anymore — as displayed by Monday’s 14-0 win — and they have proven their toughness by bouncing back from adversity.

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“We played pretty complete baseball in front of our favorite crowd,” Hinch said. “Answering to the challenge of playing the same team that kicked your (expletive) the week before, my favorite part is that we stood up for ourselves, defended ourselves and won.

“They big key is winning.”

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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