Rodriguez strong, but bats can’t pick him up

Detroit Tigers

Yet the Tigers (8-18) lost their fourth consecutive game anyway, failing to add run support in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Astros. Houston (17-11) scored twice off reliever Michael Fulmer in the bottom of the eighth — including a bases-loaded walk to Kyle Tucker for the decisive run — to rally to its sixth straight victory.

“It’s tough to win right now,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “We’re having a hard time putting it all together. Our bullpen has been exceptional all season, Michael has been exceptional. Tough to describe. Tough loss.”

“It’s frustrating losing games,” said catcher Tucker Barnhart, who struck out twice and left a team-high four runners on base. “There’s no other way to put it.”

Detroit’s relievers entered Saturday with a 2.24 ERA, which led the Majors, and Fulmer had given up just three hits and no runs in 10 1/3 innings. Yet after a game-tying RBI triple by Michael Brantley and an intentional walk with two outs to fearsome cleanup hitter Yordan Alvarez, Fulmer very unintentionally walked Yuli Gurriel and Tucker to plate what became the winning run.

Gurriel, a right-handed hitter, is hitting just .196 this season. On paper, Fulmer was in a good spot, facing a friendly righty-on-righty matchup to potentially escape the inning without further damage. But Detroit’s normally reliable reliever threw eight balls over his next nine pitches.

“I was yanking everything,” said Fulmer, whose 21-appearance scoreless streak ended in the loss. “It was one of those days. It just sucks that we were almost there [to the win], and everybody else did their job except for me.”

“I just didn’t have the feel for the fastball, so I tried to go to the slider, and even the sliders were yanked, as well. You try to make adjustments as best you can, and obviously I wasn’t able to make it. I have to get back to fundamentals.”

On offense, the Tigers seemed more pleased with their fundamentals. However, despite posting 11 hits on the day, including nine off Astros’ starter Framber Valdez, Detroit went just 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position, and couldn’t add on to the early lead.

“I can’t complain about our offensive approach today,” Hinch said. “It was probably the best team offensive approach against a really good pitcher that we’ve had all season. We took what he gave us, and didn’t try to do too much. The slower breaking balls, we pulled them down the line. Obviously, you want to tack on when you can.”

Perhaps the most promising sign was Rodriguez, who allowed just one hit and one run over 6 2/3 innings while striking out eight. Despite signing his lucrative contract in the offseason and being named Detroit’s Opening Day starter, Rodriguez has been a major factor behind the club’s underwhelming start.

Rodriguez did not allow fewer than three runs or strike out more than six batters in any of his first five starts, and the Tigers lost four of them. But Saturday’s outing brought renewed hope, as Rodriguez lowered his ERA from 5.33 to 4.50 and was in position to pick up his first win until the Tigers gave up the lead in the 8th. Most impressively, he did it versus the Astros, who had hammered Rodriguez in six prior career starts (1-3, 8.53 ERA) against them.

“Rodriguez was awesome,” said Houston manager Dusty Baker. “That was an example of the best pitch in baseball still being a well-located fastball.”

Other than a first-pitch home run by Jose Altuve in the third inning, Rodriguez did not allow another hit over his 99-pitch outing. He struck out Alvarez twice in three plate appearances.

“All my pitches were working,” Rodriguez said. “Hitters are going to show me which pitch I’m going to use. Today was sinker, fastball, cutter. Some days, it’s going to be more changeups. It depends who I’m facing and how my pitches are working that day.”

“Eduardo was exceptional,” added Hinch. “He pitched everybody a little bit differently, and he was able to mix-and-match his pitches. His cutter was really good to both sides of the plate. That’s key for him. He was really sharp and in control.”

Unfortunately for the Tigers, that control still wasn’t enough to end their slide.

“It was one of those games,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve just got to turn the page and get ready for tomorrow.”

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