St. Petersburg, Fla. — The Tigers beat up the vaunted Rays bullpen in Detroit over the weekend, scoring 15 runs in three games.
Different story at Tropicana Field Thursday.
“That was standard operation Tampa Bay Rays,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said after the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Tigers 5-2. “Six pitchers, all really good arms, we didn’t get a lot of good looks at any of them. We had a couple of good swings but they did a really good job and didn’t have a ton of positive at-bats.”
Two good swings. Niko Goodrum hit his seventh home run and his first since July 10 in the fifth inning and Jeimer Candelario hit his 15th with two outs in the ninth.
After manager Kevin Cash deployed right-hander Louis Head as an opener, pitching a clean first inning, a quintet of relievers locked down the Tigers hitters the rest of the way.
Central Michigan University product Dietrich Enns, who blanked the Tigers over four innings to earn his first big-league win on Saturday, went four more Thursday to earn his second big-league win.
Goodrum blasted a 424-foot homer to center in the fifth. That ball, as he knows all too well, would not have been out at Comerica Park.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “Only thing you can do is try to barrel balls up. I did that and the field took care of the rest.”
J.P. Feyereisen, Pete Fairbanks and Adam Conley each pitched a scoreless inning before Candelario’s blast off JT Chargois.
The loss ended the Tigers’ three-game winning streak.
The way it started, odds were long against Tigers lefty starter Tyler Alexander getting to, let alone through, five innings.
“Yeah, not the ideal way you want to start off an outing,” Alexander said.
Yandy Diaz hit the first pitch of the game 428 feet into the left-field seats. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 112 mph. Alexander then walked Manuel Margot after an eight-pitch fight and hit Nelson Cruz in the right forearm.
Cruz would leave the game after six innings with a forearm contusion.
After a passed ball by catcher Dustin Garneau moved the runners up, Randy Arozarena hit a sacrifice fly to score Margot.
“It kind of took me a second to get my feet under me,” said Alexander, who limited the Rays to a run over 4 1/3 innings six days ago. “But really after the first two batters I felt more comfortable.”
Alexander quickly righted himself, allowing just two harmless singles through the fourth. He dispatched the three Rays hitters in the second inning on eight pitches, all strikes.
In the fifth, though, he and the Tigers were victimized by some bold and crafty baserunning by Rays veteran Kevin Kiermaier.
Kiermaier, who Alexander struck out on three pitches in the second, flipped a ball over third baseman Candelario’s head, went to second on a ground out and scored on an infield single.
“That play was really a mess,” Hinch said. “Just a very instinctual play by Kiermaier.”
He was running on a 2-2 pitch to Margot. Margot hit a ground ball a little to the right of Goodrum at shortstop. Goodrum made a late, backhanded lunge to stab the ball. When he straightened and threw to first, way late to get Margot, Kiermaier sped home and scored without a throw.
“He took off late, and when the ball was hit, he was right in front of the ball, that’s why you saw my late dive,” Goodrum said. “I couldn’t see the ball. When I got it, I peeked at him and he stopped. So that’s what gave me the nod to throw it — hard-hit ball, I thought I had a chance to get an out.
“Once I got rid of it, he started back up. That was the whole situation. Usually if a guy stops, he just shuts it down. He’s very aggressive. He stopped and started back up again. That’s a tough thing to do.”
Alexander got the first two outs in the sixth and, with right-handed hitting power threat Mike Zunino on deck, left-handed hitting Joey Wendle was going to be his last batter of the game. But, instead of finishing off the sixth and keeping it a two-run cushion, Alexander walked Wendle.
Alexander called it an “uncompetitive walk.”
“I felt like I was in control for the majority of the game, ahead in the counts and throwing what I wanted to throw,” he said. “Then every once in a while I will lose it for a bit and give an uncompetitive walk.
“It’s very frustrating because I am effective when I’m ahead.”
Hinch brought in right-hander Drew Carlton to face Zunino, who is a menace to left-handed pitching. Didn’t matter. Zunino hit Carlton’s second pitch 431 feet over the wall in center — 5-1.