BALTIMORE — Behind the Detroit Tigers‘ dugout, a group of fans waved Venezuelan flags.
The crowd chanted: “We want Miggy.”
They were asking for Venezuelan native Miguel Cabrera, who is one home run away from becoming the 28th player in MLB history to reach No. 500. Manager AJ Hinch planned to start him at designated hitter for Thursday’s series finale, but he changed his mind before submitting the lineup.
Without Cabrera, two other Venezuelans — Renato Nunez and Victor Reyes — picked up the slack. They delivered two of the team’s three home runs in a 6-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, giving the Tigers (57-60) a three-game series sweep. They’re tied with Cleveland for second place in the American League Central.
“They’re my people,” Nunez said about the fans. “They’re from Venezuela. They’re not my family, but I know they’ve been here following Miguel for 500 homers. But yeah, they’re my people. It was a great game all around.”
Detroit is 48-36 since May 8 and 17-9 since the All-Star break.
Left-hander John Means is Baltimore’s best starter, but the Tigers rocked him for six runs on eight hits and one walk. They crushed three home runs: Nunez (361 feet) and Reyes (383 feet) in the fourth inning and Robbie Grossman (384 feet) in the fifth.
Nunez and Reyes hit two-run homers and Grossman hit a solo shot; all three were to left field.
“It feels amazing,” Nunez said. “I feel pumped. I feel nice. Let’s keep it rolling.”
Playing in his first MLB game since April 18, Nunez clobbered a changeup from Means to give the Tigers a 3-1 lead. It was a measure of revenge against the Orioles, whom he played for from 2018-20. During the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the 27-year-old drilled 43 home runs in 203 games, but he was designated for assignment in November 2020.
He signed with the Tigers and was called up, then sent to Triple-A Toledo, where he hit .291 with 20 home runs and 64 RBIs over 74 games. He was added to the 40-man roster and activated Wednesday.
Jeimer Candelario’s one-out triple chased Means in the fifth. Back in the fourth, Candelario smacked his 32nd double to score Jonathan Schoop and tie the game at 1-1. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Six innings, three runs
Rookie right-hander Matt Manning returned to the mound for the first time since getting shelled for six runs in an Aug. 6 loss to Cleveland.
In his 10th big-league start, the 23-year-old held the Orioles to three runs on eight hits. He did not allow a walk for the second straight outing and struck out two batters. Manning threw 51 fastballs — combining his recently developed two-seamer (39) and familiar four-seamer (12) — and averaged 94.4 mph, reaching a top velocity of 97.6 mph.
He fired 60 of 83 pitches for strikes.
“I thought he was really good for a couple reasons,” Hinch said. “I think his stuff ticked up as he’s gotten more comfortable. I want to urge all of us to allow him to develop at this level and learn and grow. … His maturity comes with some of the pitches, but a lot of it is how he’s handling the in-game situations and in-game adjustments. He’s calm in the dugout. There’s a lot to like with what he’s doing.”
MIGGY IS PLAYING: Why Miguel Cabrera’s 500th home run could come in Baltimore, not Detroit
WAIT, CHANGE OF PLANS: Miguel Cabrera will not play Thursday in Baltimore, gets chance at 500th homer in Detroit
Manning worked around trouble in each of the first three innings, but he limited his pitch count to 19 in the first, 11 in the second and 10 in the third, aided by his start of a 1-6-3 inning-ending double play in the third on a comebacker from Anthony Santander.
“Incredible athlete on the mound,” Hinch said. “You don’t (often) see the (pitcher) check the guy at third and still turn and throw the double play. Matt is a tremendous athlete, arguably the best athlete on the pitching staff. I’ll get some flack for saying that, but it’s true.”
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a double steal. Because of a defensive mistake on the rundown with Santander between first and second base, speedy Cedric Mullins had no problem dashing across home plate safely.
“I knew that they were finding some holes, and I wasn’t really getting beat too bad,” Manning said. “I just wanted to make better-quality pitches to some certain zones and not leave balls over the plate. After I did that, it went pretty good.”
In the fourth, DJ Stewart crushed a changeup for a solo home run. Manning retired the next three batters to avoid further damage. Facing the Orioles for the third time through the order, he pitched a perfect fifth.
But Baltimore wouldn’t go away.
Stewart smashed his second home run — this time on a 97.5 mph two-seam fastball — to cut the Tigers’ lead to 6-3 with two outs in the sixth inning. After Maikel Franco singled to keep the pressure on Manning, pitching coach Chris Fetter emerged from the dugout.
“I still gave up homers,” Manning said about his boost in velocity. “It’s not the key to everything, but it feels good. I always knew I had it in there. I wasn’t going to throw anything else to DJ Stewart other than fastballs, so that’s what happened. I was OK with the result.”
Manning struck out Jorge Mateo looking with a 96 mph two-seamer to conclude his solid start.
In the seventh, righty reliever Kyle Funkhouser allowed one run. Ahead by two runs, right-hander Michael Fulmer kept the Orioles scoreless in the eighth and ninth innings to earn his ninth save, and first of the two-inning variety.
Gregory Soto and Jose Cisnero weren’t available to pitch.
“I wasn’t using either one of those guys unless it got to extra innings,” Hinch said. “They both came to me and wanted to be available. It would be the first day ever if one of those guys says they can’t pitch. … Michael being able to get through an efficient eighth inning allowed him to go out for the ninth.”
Robson makes MLB debut
Replacing catcher Grayson Greiner (cramp) as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning, Jacob Robson grounded out sharply to second base for the second out of the inning in his first MLB at-bat. He stayed in the game and played left field.
Robson, 26, was called up from Triple-A Toledo on Thursday morning to replace utility player Niko Goodrum, who went to the 10-day injured list with a left groin strain. He ground out to second base in his next at-bat, as well.
He finished 0-for-2.
“He was really excited when I saw him earlier,” Nunez said. “I gave him a hug. You’re going to see a lot of line drives, I can tell you that. He’s going to hustle, run the bases hard and play 100%. Really fun to watch.”
Robson hit .280 with five home runs, 23 RBIs, 32 walks and 75 strikeouts over 50 games for the Mud Hens this season. He started the year with Double-A Erie, hitting .424 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 18 games before spending two weeks with the Canadian national team in an unsuccessful attempt to make the Olympics. Upon his return to the Tigers’ system, he was promoted.
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.