Detroit — The Tigers just keep on rolling.
They finished their second sweep since the All-Star break, finishing off the Texas Rangers, 7-5, on Thursday at Comerica Park, their seventh consecutive victory.
“I’m proud of our entire team’s performance,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “That’s a really good homestand to kickstart the second half.”
Tyler Alexander was making his fourth start of the season for the Tigers as he transitions from occasional starter to official member of the rotation.
Before the game, Hinch said Alexander had followed a normal starter’s routine with a bullpen.
“I’ve started before so I just kind of slid into my starter routine that I’ve had in the past,” Alexander said. “I try to keep a reliever mentality while on the mound. It helps me, hitter by hitter, pitch by pitch. I think that’s one big adjustment that I’ve made as a starter. For me it’s just being ready to throw whenever they give me the ball and it could be at any point.”
Of course, Alexander’s current in-between status has allowed for his teammates to have a little fun with him.
“The bullpen’s been throwing jabs at him for being a starter, the starters have been throwing jabs at him for being a transitional reliever, and I’ve been poking my fun at him as well,” Hinch said with a grin. “He’s taking a beating between starts but now he gets to compete on the field.”
In his first inning, Alexander looked very competitive, striking out Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Joey Gallo.
In the bottom of the first after Jonathan Schoop reached on an error and Robbie Grossman walked, Eric Haase came to the plate and belted a home run off Texas started Mike Foltynewicz for a 3-0 Tigers lead.
“It was the first time a lot of us had faced him so we were trying to feel it out ourselves,” Haase said. “Fortunately for us, we got a couple guys on early, I got something over the plate to give us a quick lead.”
The ball traveled an estimated 413 feet. It was Haase’s 15th home run this season.
Grossman’s walk extended his career-best on-base streak to 21 games.
In the bottom of the second, Willi Castro hit the first pitch he saw to right-center field for a triple and then scored on Victor Reyes’ sacrifice fly, making the lead 4-0.
“Willi Castro, big triple to kickstart his return,” Hinch said. “I thought that was really nice to see.”
Schoop led off the bottom of the third with a double to left, extending his hitting streak to a season-best 12 games.
In the fourth, Alexander hit Gallo with a pitch and Jonah Heim doubled, sending Gallo to third. Andy Ibañez hit a bloop single to score Gallo for the Rangers’ first run of the game.
Pitching coach Chris Fetter came to the mound for a quick visit and Alexander responded by striking out David Dahl.
Hinch then took out Alexander and brought in Erasmo Ramirez, who got Charlie Culberson to strike out swinging to end the threat.
“I think AJ thought I ran out of gas a little bit,” Alexander said. “I think I could have finished the fourth. He liked the matchup with Erasmo a little bit better, so I’m not gonna question him there. I think pitch count-wise I can probably do it as long as I’m rolling along fine.”
Alexander threw a season-high 3.2 innings and 59 pitches, which should keep going up as he gets stretched out.
“I thought Tyler did a good job of throwing strikes, I thought he did a good job of handling their middle part of their order — one mishap hitting Gallo on accident,” Hinch said. “We need innings. We need him to be able to stretch out a little bit. He’ll hopefully go a little bit further next week in Minnesota.”
The Tigers restored and then increased their lead in the bottom of the fourth.
Zack Short and Reyes hit back-to-back solo home runs for a 6-1 lead.
“Shorty and Victor going back-to-back, big swings and obviously key, especially when you get toward the end of the game and you only got a two-run lead,” Hinch said.
Short’s homer was his fifth and second in as many games. It was only Reyes’ second homer of the season and first since April 5 at Minnesota.
It marked the fourth time this season the Tigers have had back-to-back home runs. The last time was July 10 when Niko Goodrum and Short went back-to-back.
The Tigers were sorry to see Foltynewicz exit after just four innings, as lefty reliever Taylor Hearn retired three straight batters in the bottom of the fifth.
The Rangers got another run in the top of the sixth as Dahl’s single brought home Gallo, who led off the inning with a walk.
Buck Farmer then replaced Ramirez. He walked Nick Solak and gave up a two-run single to Kiner-Falefa, cutting the lead to 6-4.
Kyle Funkhouser came on in the seventh and delivered a 1-2-3 inning.
“Funk, he’s impressed me the most,” Alexander said. “I’ve played with him a lot through the minor leagues, I’ve seen him as a starter, I’ve seen him well, I’ve seen him bad. I like where he’s at, I like how he’s pitching now with the ton of confidence he has. It’s very impressive.”
Reyes led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and eventually scored on Grossman’s single to left.
The RBI was the 300th of Grossman’s career.
Funkhouser’s 16.1-inning scoreless streak ended in the eighth when Ibañez tripled to lead off the inning and scored on Dahl’s sacrifice fly.
Funkhouser got the win and improved to 4-0.
Gregory Soto pitched the ninth. After walking Eli White, he struck out Adolis Garcia, Gallo and then got Heim to ground out to end the game.
It was Soto’s 11th save and third in three games.
“Going back-to-back-to-back is not easy as a reliever,” Alexander said. “Normally back-to-back will tax your body pretty good. Soto’s a workhorse; he’s a strong guy so we knew that he could do it. But it’s impressive nonetheless.”
Dana Wakiji is a freelance writer.