Eduardo Rodriguez pitched nearly seven scoreless innings, Miguel Cabrera sparked the offense with two big hits, Will Vest closed out the game with the bases loaded and the Detroit Tigers won a baseball game for the fourth time in 20 games.
On Friday, Rodriguez and Cabrera put the Tigers’ troubles on their shoulders. The Venezuelans carried their team to a 4-2 victory in the series opener against the Baltimore Orioles in front of 23,941 fans at Comerica Park.
The Tigers (10-23) need more of these results.
“That drive to Birmingham I have, I haven’t had a happy drive in a long time,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “It really feels that way. So absolutely, this is a nice win for us with the chance to win a series in game two of a series. We’re going to celebrate accordingly.”
Hinch’s team owns the worst record in the American League, but beating the Orioles ended a three-game losing streak. The win also kept the Tigers from tying the Cincinnati Reds — winners Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates — for the worst record in baseball, at 9-24.
Rodriguez, in his seventh start, completed 6⅔ scoreless innings, pouring in 72 of 104 pitches for strikes. The left-hander worked around five hits and four walks and recorded three strikeouts.
His ERA dropped to 3.72 this season.
“Every time you win, it’s big,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a big game for everybody. We just got to go out there and win again tomorrow.”
Hinch removed Rodriguez after he walked back-to-back batters with two outs in the seventh inning. He turned to lefty reliever Andrew Chafin, who allowed an infield single before striking out Jorge Mateo with a filthy slider in the dirt to escape without damage.
A 20-year MLB veteran, Cabrera put the Tigers on the scoreboard and extended his team’s advantage with a pair of power strokes. The 39-year-old designated hitter doubled to center field for a 1-0 lead in the third inning, then upped the lead to 2-0 with a solo home run in the sixth.
It marked the Tigers’ 13th home run of 2022.
“I know he was pretty ultra-focused today,” Hinch said. “We’re trying to get some momentum offensively. We did just enough with some big hits, and he sparked us. Doesn’t surprise me because Miggy is Miggy, but it came at a perfect time.”
Cabrera, hitting .276 in 29 games, finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs and one strikeout. Coming off his fifth double and second home run in 2021, Cabrera has 3,016 hits, 602 doubles and 504 home runs in his career.
“It’s special every time he’s out there,” Rodriguez said. “He goes out there and hypes everybody up.”
Detroit’s offense finished with four runs on six hits and three walks with eight strikeouts.
To go with Cabrera’s two-hit performance, rookie Spencer Torkelson went 2-for-3 with one RBI. His second-inning infield single snapped an 0-for-16 stretch. Robbie Grossman drew two walks.
The Tigers’ bullpen almost squandered a four-run cushion in the eighth inning.
Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander hammered right-hander Jacob Barnes for back-to-back solo home runs on the first two pitches of his outing. He served up a four-seam fastball to Mancini and a cutter to Santander.
Barnes walked Tyler Nevin, and Hinch immediately replaced him with righty Alex Lange.
Lange earned a force out and strikeout, but between those plate appearances, third baseman Jeimer Candelario made a fielding error. A two-out walk from Lange loaded the bases for Cedric Mullins, who finished ninth in 2021 AL MVP voting.
Mullins popped out to second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
In the ninth, left-hander Gregory Soto hit the first two batters he faced and departed the game with the bases loaded and one out. Vest, summoned from the bullpen, struck out Ramon Urias and Rylan Bannon to record his first career save.
“Will Vest has pitched as good as anybody that we have in the ‘pen,” Hinch said. “I don’t like putting him in a tough situation that he’s never been in before, but he’s not going to have experience until he gets in those situations.”
“I didn’t try to change anything,” Vest said. “What I’ve been doing is … trying to get to two strikes as quickly as possible. Once you do that, then they’re kind of in a hole. That’s my game plan, no matter what the situation.”
Mastery on the mound
Rodriguez was in full control of the Orioles.
Baltimore’s best chance to score came in the first inning, when Mullins — winning an 11-pitch at-bat — and Mateo opened the game with consecutive infield singles. Both players stole a base with one out, putting two runners in scoring position.
But Rodriguez answered by inducing a popout and groundout. The scoreless first inning set the tone for the rest of his outing, but Rodriguez needed two innings to settle in.
He tossed 26 pitches in the first and 21 in the second.
“I don’t feel like it was command,” Rodriguez said. “They were making a lot of foul balls, a lot of contact on the baseball. I felt like my command was pretty good in the first two innings. It’s just, they were fouling it off a lot. After that, I just thought about quick innings.”
After 47 pitches through two innings, Rodriguez entered cruise control and needed eight pitches in the third, 12 in the fourth, seven in the fifth and 12 in the sixth. He threw six pitches for the first two outs in the seventh, then 12 pitches amid the two walks that ended his outing.
The Tigers’ defense supported Rodriguez’s efforts with two double plays.
Mullins grounded into a double play in the fifth inning, from shortstop Javier Báez to first baseman Torkelson. Another double play occurred in the sixth, from third baseman Candelario to second baseman Schoop to Torkelson.
For his 104 pitches, Rodriguez used 37 cutters, 34 four-seam fastballs, 22 sinkers, eight changeups and three sliders. He logged 11 swings and misses, including seven with his cutter, and 16 called strikes.
The Orioles averaged a 78.6 mph exit velocity against him.
“He had conviction in his fastball tonight,” Hinch said. “He mixed even a couple cutters and sliders to Mullings and Odor. He doesn’t do that a ton (to left-handed hitters). I’m glad he didn’t give up any runs, especially cheap runs because he left with guys on base. But what a great night for him.”
After Cabrera’s solo shot, Candelario struck out swinging for the second out in the sixth inning. But Schoop re-sparked the Tigers with a line-drive single to left field. Willi Castro, the left fielder, doubled to score Schoop and put the Tigers ahead 3-0
Castro advanced to third base on the throw to home plate
Then, Castro scored on Torkelson’s single to make it 4-0.
“He’s contributing,” Hinch said of Torkelson, hitting .163 in 30 games. “I know we’re after the hit total. I know he’s got some adjustments to make at this level. If we can inch forward every day with something positive, he’s going to come out of this and feel better about himself.”
Orioles right-hander Jordan Lyles gave up four runs on six hits and three walks with six strikeouts.
In the seventh inning, Báez nearly crushed a home run to left field off reliever Denyi Reyes’ 1-2 fastball. His hit was initially ruled fair by third-base umpire Mark Wegner, which clearly surprised Báez, but the replay review reversed the call on the field.