HOUSTON — If the past five games are any indication of what’s to come, the Detroit Tigers — despite losses in three of those games — are on their way to getting a much-needed offensive boost.
The Houston Astros nearly blanked the Tigers in Thursday’s four-game series opener at Minute Maid Park.
Astros closer Ryan Pressly had two outs and two strikes against Jeimer Candelario with a runner on first base in the top of the ninth inning. Candelario tied the game with a two-run home run, but the Tigers lost, 3-2, on Kyle Tucker’s walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.
“This is a tough one,” Tigers catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “This one stings, maybe more than most. But I’m just proud of our guys for competing and staying with it. … Candy had a great at-bat there in the ninth inning against one of the better closers in the American League. It speaks to the grit this team has.”
The Tigers (8-16) brought their best hitters to the plate in the ninth. Pressly retired Javier Báez and Austin Meadows, but Miguel Cabrera, who finished 3-for-4, kept the inning alive with his 3,008th career hit to pass Al Kaline on MLB’s all-time leaderboard.
Facing Candelario, Pressly worked ahead with back-to-back curveballs, both fouled, before an elevated fastball missed the strike zone for a 1-2 count.
“With two strikes, you don’t want to look for pitches,” Candelario said, “you want to look for strikes. Early in the count, you want to look for pitches. I just tried to be short to the ball and see what he’s going to throw.”
Candelario crushed a fourth-pitch curveball.
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Over the past five games, Candelario is hitting .444 (8-for-18) with two doubles, two home runs, three RBIs, zero walks and two strikeouts. He hit .136 (9-for-66) without a homer in his first 18 games.
“He’s had a nice couple games,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s important for him to get started.”
Still, Candelario’s home run wasn’t enough.
The Tigers’ offense continues to scuffle.
Left-hander Tarik Skubal gifted the Tigers six innings of two-run ball with nine strikeouts. He boasts a 3.04 ERA with three walks and 29 strikeouts in 26⅔ innings this season, including a 1.99 ERA over his past four starts.
“I felt like I threw the ball well, but it didn’t matter — we lost,” Skubal said. “If I don’t give up those two runs, the two-run bomb that we hit in the ninth is a game-winning home run. All that matters is winning, so it doesn’t really matter what I did.”
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The Tigers have scored 11 runs with Skubal on the mound: one run April 10 against the Chicago White Sox, zero runs April 15 against the Kansas City Royals, nine runs April 23 against the Colorado Rockies, one run April 28 against the Minnesota Twins and zero runs Thursday against the Astros.
The Tigers’ offense ranks 25th in MLB with an 87 wRC+. They’re dead last in MLB with 11 home runs and a .091 isolated power, and they’re 27th in MLB with a .620 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
It’s no surprise the Tigers rank 29th with 3.08 runs per game.
Candelario was Detroit’s most consistent hitter in 2020 and 2021, hitting .278 and getting on base at a .356 clip in 201 games. His 42 doubles last season tied him for first place in MLB.
Although Candelario seems to be on the right track, the Tigers need a slew of other players — namely second baseman Jonathan Schoop — to make similar offensive improvements.
“When you get good ABs, when you hit the ball on the barrel, your confidence starts to grow,” Candelario said. “It’s difficult with one swing. But what about two swings? I’m a switch hitter. I got to continue working really hard.”