Toronto — AJ Hinch understands where the questions are coming from. He, like everyone else, cannot wait to celebrate Miguel Cabrera’s 500th home run. But, as he says almost daily now, that’s not the primary focus for him, for the Tigers or, honestly, for Cabrera.
“He’s not trying to homer every at-bat,” Hinch said following the Tigers 3-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays Saturday at Rogers Centre. “If he was at 498 we wouldn’t be talking about this. He’s going to play baseball. He’s trying to put up good at-bats.”
Cabrera, who struck out to end the game, went 0-for-3 with a walk Saturday. He is 4 for 29 since he hit his 499th career home run and has not hit a ball in the air in his last three games.
“We will celebrate the next homer he hits,” Hinch said. “But we’re not all waiting around for him to hit it. We’re trying to win.”
These veteran left-handed starters the Blue Jays are throwing at the Tigers in this series are making that task very difficult.
After Robbie Ray limited them to a scratched-out run in eight innings Friday night, Hyun Jin Ryu threw seven shutout innings against them on Saturday.
“He’s a great pitcher for a reason,” said centerfielder Derek Hill, who had two hits in his return off the injured list, one off Ryu. “He can control whatever pitch he wants in whatever count. He keeps you off-balance.”
Tigers starter Wily Peralta was stout, too, getting 12 ground-ball outs in six innings. His only mistake was a slider stayed up to Randal Grichuk with a runner on and two outs in the second inning. Grichuk lofted it over the wall in left field, his 21st of the season.
“They are a really aggressive lineup,” said Peralta, who had lasted five innings or less in his previous four starts. “My mentality was to work ahead and then try to expand the zone. Get ahead and let my sinker work.”
On the slider to Grichuk, Peralta said, “It just backed up a little bit. First pitch, I was just trying to get ahead and not be too perfect. It backed up and he put a good swing on it…You never want to give up any runs every time you go out there, but I knew I had to pitch a good game because their starter was throwing the ball well.”
Blue Jays second baseman Marcus Semien, who had three hits, belted a two-out solo homer off reliever Erasmo Ramirez in the bottom of the eighth. Semien has 30 home runs.
“It was a well-played game on both sides,” Hinch said. “But they hit the ball out of the park a couple of times.”
The Tigers only put two runners into scoring position. Harold Castro, the only left-handed hitter in Hinch’s lineup, doubled with one out in the fifth. It was his first extra-base hit, and sixth hit total, against a lefty.
But he didn’t move past third. Ryu struck out Dustin Garneau to end the inning.
“He never really throws the same two pitches back-to-back,” Hinch said. “For the most part, he is a pitch-maker out there. He has every pitch imaginable and good command of it. He’s a big guy, he has some angle to him and he’s really good.”
Ryu used his four-seam fastball (90 mph) to set up both a change-up and cutter. He got 10 swings and misses with his change-up and 12 called strikes with his fastball. The Tigers never could make up their minds on which to attack.
“He’s one of the better left-handed, true pitchers you will face,” Hinch said. “He will do the disrupt your timing thing with the best of them. He’s the definition of a pitcher.”
Lefty Tim Mayza cruised through the bottom of the Tigers order in the eighth. Hill led off the ninth with a single, and then right-handed closer Jordan Romano struck out Jonathan Schoop, Robbie Grossman and Cabrera to lock it down.
The Tigers will face another veteran lefty, Steven Matz, in the finale Sunday.