The last time Tyler Alexander faced the Rays, on Friday at Comerica Park, Tigers manager A.J. Hinch pulled his left-handed starter just before he could get a third matchup against Tigers nemesis Nelson Cruz. As effective as Alexander had been, there was no way Hinch was giving Cruz a third at-bat against a left-hander.
As Alexander worked into fifth-inning trouble in Thursday’s Tigers-Rays rematch at Tropicana Field, there was nobody warming in Detroit’s bullpen when Cruz stepped up. Hinch gave Alexander his shot, and Alexander responded with three swinging strikes, sending Cruz lunging at a slider for Alexander’s fourth and final strikeout.
It didn’t have much impact other than damage control in the Tigers’ 5-2 loss, but it’s a sign of Alexander’s progression as a starter. What had been an assignment partly out of necessity due to injuries to Detroit’s rotation is now a nod to how effective Alexander has been lately.
Alexander came to within an out of a quality start, allowing three earned runs on five hits over 5 2/3 innings. Ironically, his last run came after Hinch brought the hook for him with righty-slugging catcher Mike Zunino due up following a two-out walk to Joey Wendle in the sixth. Instead, Zunino hit a two-run homer off Drew Carlton to essentially put the game out of reach.