When Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch replaced Miguel Cabrera with Harold Castro before the seventh inning, he didn’t necessarily expect the utility player to take on the role of a hero in Monday’s series opener against the Chicago White Sox.
But that’s exactly what Castro did.
“His back tightened up a little bit, so we were going to be very conservative with him,” Hinch said. “We are going to take precautions with him. I think he’s fine. Getting Harold in there obviously paid off later. The single was all we needed.”
Facing White Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel, Castro delivered a two-out single through the right side, scoring Robbie Grossman from second base. He lifted the Tigers a 4-3 victory at Comerica Park for a three-game winning streak.
Detroit is 64-54 since May 8 and 33-27 since the All-Star break, winning eight of its past 11 contests.
“Who do you want up to get a single?” Hinch said. “For me, it’s Harold Castro. I don’t care who’s pitching.”
“That’s good when your manager says that about you,” Castro said. “That feels pretty good. When AJ gives me the chance, I give my 100% to do my job because he trusts in me. I give 100% to do my job and put the team in a winning position.”
The Tigers (73-78) received scoreless relief appearances from left-hander Ian Krol in the sixth inning and righty Drew Hutchison in the seventh and eighth. To set up the game-winning single, Grossman recorded his 18th stolen base this season to reach scoring position.
“All three guys that came out of the ‘pen are in somewhat uncharted waters with how they’ve been used this year,” Hinch said. “Ian set the tone coming out in the sixth and getting his outs before the top of the lineup rolled around. I thought that was key.”
Rookie right-hander Alex Lange pitched the ninth inning and secured the first save of his MLB career. Since returning Aug. 22 from Triple-A Toledo, Lange has a 1.23 ERA with six walks and 14 strikeouts over 14⅔ innings.
“He wants to be here so bad,” Hinch said. “He wants to establish himself. I love that about him. His heart rate wasn’t racing. I’m sure his mind was a little bit. He’s in the big leagues closing a game for the first time in his life, and he’s doing it against a first-place club. I thought he did well.”
What was Hernandez thinking?
After the White Sox posted the first three runs of the game in the top of the third inning, the Tigers answered with three of their own in the bottom half. The offense forced Chicago starter Carlos Rodon to chuck 30 pitches in the second, and he didn’t look the same upon returning the third — from his velocity to his location to his results.
The first three batters reached base: Isaac Paredes (walk), Willi Castro (single) and Victor Reyes (RBI single). The single from Reyes, which was deflected by second baseman Cesar Hernandez, cut the Tigers’ deficit to 3-1.
“I don’t think he was particularly sharp tonight,” Hinch said about Rodon. “I know he’s been used sporadically. It didn’t look like he had picture-perfect command, so you do want to wait him out and try to make him make pitches if you can.”
The next at-bat featured a big mistake.
HOLLAND TALKS TIGERS: What AJ Hinch said on Day 1 stands out, plus more from Q&A with veteran
Jonathan Schoop put the ball in play up the middle, slightly to the right side of second base. Hernandez fielded the ball with his glove, transferred it to his throwing hand and attempted to chase Reyes between first and second base. When Reyes backpedaled and purposefully fell backward, Hernandez tagged him in the chest with his glove — except the ball was still in his bare hand.
The result: Reyes and Schoop were safe at second and first, respectively, while Castro scored easily. Hernandez received a fielding error for his sloppy mistake.
Cabrera’s ensuing sacrifice fly to center tied the game.
The 19-year veteran became the 20th MLB player since runs batted in became an official stat in 1920 to reach 1,800 RBIs. After accomplishing 500 home runs in August, Cabrera remains five doubles away from No. 600 and 21 hits from No. 3,000.
“We’re watching an incredible player who is clearly still contributing,” Hinch said. “It’s almost unfathomable when you look at the big numbers that he’s accumulating.”
Rodon did not return after the third inning.
The 28-year-old All-Star entered Monday with a 2.38 ERA but allowed three runs (two earned) on two hits and two walks. He struck out six, tossing 44 of 69 pitches for strikes. During the third, Rodon’s fastball dipped as low as 89 mph.
New game, new Manning
Matt Manning could have fallen apart in his 16th MLB start, but instead, the 23-year-old rookie stepped up to deliver back-to-back scoreless innings in the fourth and fifth to keep the Tigers and White Sox knotted at three.
Trotting into the dugout, Manning earned a firm handshake from manager AJ Hinch and high-fives from his teammates.
“In the beginning of the year or even in the past, maybe I would have crumbled when I went into those situations,” Manning said. “But I was able to get out of the third and go through the fourth and fifth pretty quickly, so I like how that turned out.”
Before his strong finish, Manning allowed the first three batters to reach safely in the third inning: Brian Goodwin (walk), Tim Anderson (single) and Luis Robert (hit by pitch).
Yoan Moncada (force out), Yasmani Grandal (sacrifice fly) and Eloy Jimenez (double) each picked up RBIs. Manning needed 26 pitches to get through the third, after he walked a pair in a 25-pitch second inning.
“A little bit of everything from Matt today,” Hinch said. “I don’t think he was particularly sharp. … He could have caved and he didn’t. He went back out there and put up a couple zeros after that. He got a little bit stronger and stronger. I think he wanted to stay in the game. That’s a good sign. Him not unraveling is part of the success story tonight.”
In the end, Manning fired 60 of 90 pitches for strikes.
He tossed 36 four-seam fastballs, 20 two-seam fastballs, 17 curveballs, nine changeups and eight sliders. He racked up six swings and misses, generating them with his four-seamer (four), curveball (one) and slider (one).
“I didn’t really have my legs under me,” Manning said. “I felt really tired. I tried to grind through it and eat up some innings.”
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.