He had completed scoreless eighth innings Friday and Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays, so manager AJ Hinch planned to give him a break. For the same reason, fellow relievers Michael Fulmer and Alex Lange were told they wouldn’t pitch in the series finale at Tropicana Field.
Funkhouser had other ideas after going through his typical pregame routine. His body felt ready to pitch, as if he were fully rested, so he approached Hinch with an offer. What he said before the game helped him secure his first career save.
“Not that I don’t trust anybody, but I just didn’t want us to lose the game and then be like, ‘Man, I probably could have thrown,'” Funkhouser said Monday. “I felt good enough to throw, so I let them know I could throw if we needed it. He ended up going to me, and it worked out.”
Entering the bottom of the ninth, the Tigers controlled a 2-0 lead.
“I told (Hinch), ‘Hey, it’s a good day for my first save,'” Funkhouser said. “And he’s like, ‘No, you’re probably down. I got you down today.'”
Hinch went to 25-year-old rookie Jason Foley for the final out in the eighth inning, but he tossed back-to-back wild pitches and walked a batter before veteran catcher Dustin Garneau rescued him by throwing out pinch-runner Kevin Kiermaier trying to steal second base.
NEWSLETTER: What changed in Year 1 A.G. (After Gardenhire)?
HOLLAND TALKS TIGERS: What AJ Hinch said on Day 1 stands out, plus more from Q&A with veteran
Had the Tigers scored a few runs in the top of the ninth, Foley might have been a candidate to return for the ninth. But they only had a two-run lead and didn’t want to risk squandering an opportunity to split the four-game series against the American League’s best team.
Because Gregory Soto landed on the injured list before Sunday’s game with a fractured finger, the Tigers were without their unofficial closer. Another marquee bullpen arm, Jose Cisnero, has been on the injured list since Sept. 14 with a right elbow laceration.
Thankfully, Funkhouser was ready to pitch.
“I’m going to do my same routine as every other day,” Funkhouser said. “More than anything, it’s just to stay with it. If you don’t loosen up at the right time, the next day might not feel the same. A good routine keeps you on track.”
He faced four batters in the ninth inning — Ji-Man Choi (groundout), Randy Arozarena (groundout), Joey Wendle (single) and Yandy Diaz (lineout) — to notch the first save of his professional career in a 2-0 victory. He threw 10 of 12 pitches for strikes.
Funkhouser has a 3.25 ERA, 33 walks and 57 strikeouts over 63⅔ innings this season, appearing in 52 games. (Last year, he made his MLB debut in July and finished with a 7.27 ERA, 11 walks and 12 strikeouts over 17⅓ innings.)
He hadn’t earned a save since his freshman season at Louisville in 2013.
“I don’t know how the games are going to play out,” Hinch said Monday. “I’m not going to name (Funkhouser) the closer, but he did close yesterday’s game, so we’ll see how it shakes out from here. He’ll be down for a day or two, just given the workload and where we are in the year.
“These leverage roles for all these guys, anybody outside of Michael Fulmer, is going to be a new experience. Alex Lange may get some innings like that. Funk will get some innings like that. Joe Jimenez will come back (from the COVID-19 injured list) at some point. It wouldn’t shock me if he gets the ninth inning sometimes.”
Alex Avila to retire
Former Tigers catcher Alex Avila is set to retire at the end of the 2021 season, the 13-year MLB veteran announced Sunday. He has played 29 games for the Washington Nationals this year, hitting .179 with one home run, seven RBIs, 19 walks and 32 strikeouts.
Avila, 34, played for the Tigers from 2009-15 and again in the 2017 campaign. He also took the field for the Chicago White Sox (2016), Chicago Cubs (2017), Arizona Diamondbacks (2018-19) and Minnesota Twins (2020).
MANNING GROWS UP: How Tigers rookie ‘showed a lot of maturity’ in best MLB start
Over eight seasons for the Tigers, Avila hit .245 with 77 home runs and 314 RBIs. More importantly, he excelled behind the plate as a catcher. His father, Tigers general manager Al Avila, traded him in July 2017 to the Cubs — along with reliever Justin Wilson — in exchange for third basemen Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes.
Avila made his lone All-Star appearance in 2011. That year, he finished with a .295 batting average, 19 home runs and 82 RBIs. The Tigers drafted him in the fifth round in 2008 from Alabama.
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.