Tyler Alexander shines in Detroit Tigers’ 3-2 loss to Minnesota Twins in series opener

Detroit Free Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The last time the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins matched up at Target Field, the teams combined for 31 runs, 32 hits and 16 walks.

Two months later, the results were much different.

Left-hander Tyler Alexander posted six innings of one-run ball, retiring the final 12 batters he faced, but the Tigers’ offense didn’t spark until the ninth inning — thanks to RBIs singles from Akil Baddoo and Jonathan Schoop — in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Twins.

The Tigers (75-82) have dropped three games in a row.

“We haven’t gotten into games very quickly,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “We had a base runner almost every inning but couldn’t capitalize on it.”

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Facing Alexander, the Twins seemed ready to pounce on him early.

They worked him for 31 pitches in the first inning, even though they were held scoreless. The Tigers helped him escape trouble by winning a challenge on a 5-4-3 double play attempt, making the ensuing back-to-back singles less stressful for Alexander to work around.

“I didn’t make great pitches (in the first inning),” Alexander said. “If I don’t establish (inside) and they’re comfortable at the plate, they’re going to see the changeup well. I made the adjustment after the first inning to go hard in and get them thinking about that. And that opened up my changeup.”

From that point forward, Alexander performed like a completely different pitcher.

Over his six innings, he conceded one run on four hits and one walk with six strikeouts — lowering his season-long ERA to 3.95.

“Baseball is a game of adjustments,” Alexander said. “Every inning, I was just trying to make adjustments until I found something that worked.”

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Alexander retired his final 12 opponents with authority, after walking Byron Buxton on four pitches to open the third inning.

But walking Buxton — because of his elite speed — impacted Alexander’s final line. He didn’t allow another player to reach safely, but Buxton used his speed to get around the bases. He stole second base and advanced to third base on Jorge Polanco’s flyout to shallow right field.

“It’s bad enough when we give up a hit,” Hinch said. “Giving him the free pass really came back to bite us. He’s hard to control on the bases. He’s one of the most dynamic players in the league when he’s healthy and in the lineup.”

Mitch Garver then knocked a sacrifice fly to center field. Buxton scored easily for a 1-0 lead.

“They did a good job of manufacturing that run,” Alexander said. “I walked the fastest guy on their team on four pitches to start the inning. I’ve been mixing the uncompetitive walks in lately. I’m trying not to do that, especially not to Buxton. That was a bad time to do it.”

Of his 99 pitches, Alexander used 34 cutters, 21 sinkers, 20 changeups, 13 sliders and 11 four-seam fastballs. Known for pitching to contact, the 27-year-old generated an impressive 15 swings and misses from eight changeups, four cutters, two four-seamers and one sinker.

Alexander struck out five of his final nine batters.

“He’s unpredictable,” Hinch said. “He’s not a guy who pitches one way. He can go to different parts of his strike zone and can entice some soft contact, get some swing and miss, and he can move the ball around. He competes his tail off. I mean, he’s got guts. He’s going to challenge the strike zone for the most part. He’s not going to cave. I love that about him.”

After Alexander

On the second pitch of Jose Urena’s relief appearance, slugger Miguel Sano took him deep to left field for his 30th home run this season and a 2-0 lead for the Twins in the seventh inning.

Sano crushed Urena’s 94 mph four-seam fastball 410 feet with a 110.8 mph exit velocity.

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The problems continued for Urena, who walked pinch-hitter Nick Gordon on six pitches and gave up a single to Willians Astudillo. The results of those plate appearances put runners on the corners for Max Kepler.

A simple sacrifice fly to center field helped the Twins to a 3-0 advantage, before Urena recorded the final two outs of the seventh on six pitches. He completed the eighth inning without giving up another run, despite a leadoff single and wild pitch.

Urena allowed two runs on three hits and one walk with three strikeouts. He tossed 20 of 33 pitches for strikes.

Offense moves slowly

Twins starter Charlie Barnes, called up from Triple-A St. Paul for Tuesday’s outing, pitched four scoreless innings. The left-hander worked around three hits, three walks and one hit batter. Making his ninth MLB appearance, Barnes struck out two batters and threw 37 of 68 pitches for strikes.

The Tigers had their best chances to score off Barnes in the second and fourth innings. Both innings featured runners on first and second base with two outs, but rookie Zack Short — recalled Sunday from Triple-A Toledo — stranded them.

Short popped out to first base in the second and flied out to right field in the fourth.

“Obviously, we put up a good fight in the ninth,” Hinch said. “We got to get into games better if we want to win some of these next five (to end the season).”

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Five relievers kept the Tigers from taking the lead, even though they had to battle through a ninth-inning scare.

Eric Haase threatened in the ninth inning with a leadoff single, but Alex Colome sent down Dustin Garneau and pinch-hitter Harold Castro. The Tigers kept their never-quit mentality alive, as Akil Baddoo and Jonathan Schoop delivered RBI singles to cut the deficit to 3-2 with two outs.

Finally, Colome struck out Robbie Grossman to record his 17th save.

The Tigers finished 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position and 8-for-34 with four walks and seven strikeouts.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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