Left-handed pitcher Tyler Alexander has six starts this season, but Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch doesn’t consider him a starter — call him an opener instead. On Saturday, the 27-year-old answered Hinch’s call against Cleveland, leading the Tigers to a 2-1 victory at Progressive Field.
“I went five today, you have to call me a starter,” Alexander said after the game. “I focused a lot on stepping more towards home plate and throwing my body towards my location. I think it made myself sharpen; I think it helped my cutter get in.”
The lefty controlled Cleveland’s lineup of right-handed bats for 5⅓ innings, including facing the minimum 12 batters through four innings.
In the bottom of the ninth, ex-Tigers catcher Wilson Ramos homered to cut the lead to one, but the Tigers were able to hold on. Gregory Soto allowed a single following the homer, but retired the final three Cleveland batters, ending the game on a swinging strikeout of Amed Rosario.
“(Ramos) takes the swing over the corner on the homer that he hit in the ninth inning, but baseball has a funny way of paying you back when you have to go away from that player for different decisions,” Hinch said. “Sure enough, he’s gonna hunt you down and do some damage against you.”
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An hour-long rain delay didn’t cool the bats for the Tigers, who took an early 1-0 lead in the second
Newly extended Jonathan Schoop started the attack with a single in the first, but was stranded. The Tigers picked up where they left off in the second with two no-out hits putting runners on the corners. One out later, a sac fly from Zack Short to right field brought Jeimer Candelario home for the early lead.
“I think we came out just a little bit stale last night. We weren’t in attack mode. Tonight we want to do the exact opposite,” Tigers catcher Eric Haase said. “We knew that Eli (Morgan) was going to be around the zone, so we’re trying to not let them get comfortable, settle in there, and ultimately pushing two runs across early was the deciding factor.”
Miguel Cabrera didn’t make any headway on 500 career homers. Entering Saturday at 498, Cabrera went 0-for-3 with a walk (from Morgan) in the fourth.
In the fifth, Victor Reyes hit a leadoff double, then came home on a liner to center from Akil Baddoo, thanks to a mishandling by outfielder Myles Straw.
Schoop picked up another hit in the eighth inning to go 2-for-4 in his AL-best 39th multi-hit game of the year.
Alexander the starter
Cleveland’s lineup couldn’t find an answer to Alexander’s cutter, which he found early on, throwing the pitch 37.1%of the time. Over the first five innings, he allowed only two hits on 54 pitches; he finished with four hits and four strikeouts on 62 pitches (44 strikes) before Michael Fulmer replaced him with one out in the sixth.
“I got back in a couple of counts with the backdoor cutter. I struck somebody out early with it. It’s turning into a feel pitch for me,” Alexander said. “I thought, ‘I throw a lot of good changeups certainly, too, and they weren’t swinging,’ so I located my cutter well, in and out, and that opened up the plate for my fastball.”
Fulmer gave up a single but escaped the bases-loaded jam. In 12 pitches by Fulmer, six were sliders and five of those were strikes.
“(Fulmer’s) got nasty stuff and he believes in his execution,” Hinch said. “He loves the moment, but he never lets the moment beat him. I think he shows that power pitching with changeup, cutter, the sinker. There’s a lot to like when he comes in the game. He’s got a lot of options.”
Kyle Funkhouser then allowed two hits in the seventh and recorded two outs. Jose Cisnero entered to get Straw and end the threat in Cleveland’s second inning with the bases loaded. Cleveland went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left 10 stranded overall.
“They had a ton of hits that were not hit hard, a lot of ground balls never got to guys in the infield,” Haase said of the bullpen’s busy night. “It felt like we were winning that game by a larger margin than the actual traffic on the base path. So for them to kind of step back, take a breath and really bear down and make pitches (and) hold that lineup was huge.”