The Detroit Tigers didn’t wait to punch back.
Trailing by two runs in the first inning, the Tigers (51-57) posted three runs in their first offensive opportunity. Getting to Baltimore Orioles starter Spenser Watkins — formerly in the Tigers’ farm system — before he settled in was crucial to securing a 6-2 victory at Comerica Park to split the four-game series.
Detroit is 42-33 since May 8 and 11-6 since the All-Star break.
“I’m proud of our guys for how we played, came back and split the series,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “When you get in the position we were in, all you can do is salvage the split and go into the off day (Monday) feeling pretty good about getting through that long stretch of games.”
BEHIND THE SCENES: Why Akil Baddoo is drawing Hall of Fame praise from Willie Horton
Despite two quick outs from Akil Baddoo and Jonathan Schoop in the first, an eight-pitch walk from Robbie Grossman ignited Watkins’ trouble. He then walked Miguel Cabrera on five pitches.
Jeimer Candelario’s single was deflected by Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini, allowing Grossman to score. Eric Haase followed with a 425-foot two-run double off the center field wall — 108.9 mph exit velocity — for a 3-2 lead.
“If you’re not going to hit, you want to draw walks,” Hinch said. “When you draw walks, you need somebody behind you to get a big hit. We did a little bit of both.”
Following Haase’s double, Watkins retired the next 14 batters he faced.
Grossman snapped his streak with one out in the sixth inning, clobbering an 0-2 fastball into the right-center gap for a stand-up triple. Cabrera scored him for a 4-2 lead with a sacrifice fly to right field, which chased Watkins from his start.
Watkins allowed four runs on three hits and two walks with four strikeouts over 5⅔ innings.
“Every win at this level means something,” Grossman said. “For us to come back after two tough losses and bring the energy and the resiliency like we did after going down early, it’s huge. It’s a tribute to the guys in the clubhouse.”
The Tigers selected Watkins in the 30th round (No. 910 overall) in the 2014 draft from Western Oregon. The 28-year-old was released by the Tigers in July 2020 and signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles in February 2021.
To secure the victory, the Tigers received scoreless innings from their top three relievers: Jose Cisnero in the seventh, Michael Fulmer in the eighth and Gregory Soto in the ninth.
In a lefty-lefty matchup with reliever Keegan Akin, Baddoo made it a three-run lead with an RBI single in the seventh inning. Grossman’s sacrifice fly pushed the lead to 6-2. The Orioles replaced Akin with righty Shaun Anderson to face Cabrera, who drew a two-out walk to load the bases.
Candelario popped out in foul territory to end the seventh and strand three runners.
Alexander gets comfy
The top of the first inning wasn’t left-handed starter Alexander’s best performance, as the Orioles hit him hard for three doubles and two runs: Austin Hayes (102.7 mph exit velocity), Ryan Mountcastle (102.6 mph) and Anthony Santander (106.5 mph).
Even Mancini’s fly out to deep right field was drilled with a 101 mph exit velocity. The doubles from Mountcastle and Santander each drove in one run. With two outs, Alexander walked Ryan McKenna but escaped the jam.
“They put those guys at the top of the order for a reason, especially against lefties,” Hinch said. “They came out very aggressive, maybe even more aggressive than we anticipated.”
After McKenna’s walk, Alexander sent down 10 of the final 12 batters he faced, allowing a single and a walk during that stretch.
To conclude his start, Alexander found himself in a 12-pitch battle with Domingo Leyba. But Leyba grounded out to shortstop, ending the threat. Alexander allowed two runs on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts, throwing 43 of 67 pitches for strikes.
“He recovered well,” Hinch said. “He didn’t shy away from the strike zone. He didn’t concede anything. He kept it at two runs and had three quality innings after that, including an inning where they were starting to stress him at the end. I think he recovered very well after being ambushed in the first inning.”
Haase in July
The calendar turned to August on Sunday, but Haase’s accomplishments made July a month to remember.
In July, the 28-year-old rookie hit .265 with three doubles, nine home runs, 29 RBIs, six walks and 26 strikeouts over 23 games (21 starts). He had a .319 on-base percentage, .627 slugging percentage and .945 on-base plus slugging percentage.
“The production has been incredible,” Hinch said. “We watch him play every day, and now he’s getting more opportunity to catch. To catch three night games in a row and play left field for a day game, he of all people deserves a day off, but the at-bats have continued to be good, threatening, productive.
“It’s fun to see him take advantage of an opportunity that, three or four months ago, he wasn’t sure it was going to come. When it’s come, and he’s taken advantage of it, he’s one of the happiest guys in the clubhouse playing for the Tigers. And I don’t blame him.”
Haase produced two homers and a .212 batting average over 14 games in May and seven homers and a .250 batting average over 21 games in June. Overall, Haase is hitting .246 with 18 home runs and 46 RBIs in 59 games this season.
Ramirez heating up
For the fifth inning, righty reliever Erasmo Ramirez took over for Alexander. He pitched two consecutive perfect innings, throwing 14 of 20 pitches for strikes and recording one strikeout.
“He’s not afraid of the strike zone, which is really key,” Hinch said. “He’s going to challenge you with stuff. It’s going to cut, it’s going to sink. He’s got some creativity in how he uses his pitches and reads swings. He’s got some savviness to him, so he’s big for us in that role, especially losing Tyler to the rotation. We need that bridge who not only provides some length but is good and gets us outs.”
MOTOR-CADE AT COMERICA: Pistons No. 1 draft pick Cade Cunningham throws first pitch at Comerica Park
Ramirez, 31, has completed 7⅓ scoreless innings in a row over his past four games, allowing just two hits and one walk with five strikeouts. During this stretch of success, 68.4% of his pitches have gone for strikes and opponents have a .083 batting average.
“I’ve been working with the pitching coaches to attack the strike zone and use all my pitches,” Ramirez said. “But if the hitters show me they’re not recognizing my two-seamers and cutters, I’m just going to keep attacking. And then I’m going to start using my slider.”
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.