Relief corps dominates accidental bullpen game

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — There’s a scene in the 1990s golf movie “Tin Cup” in which Kevin Costner’s character, Roy McAvoy, brags to his PGA Tour buddy David Simms about shooting par with just his 7-iron. Asked if he’s ever done that, Simms, played by Don Johnson, brushes it off by saying it had never even occurred to him to try.

The Tigers had never had six pitchers combine for a shutout until Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Orioles, according to Stathead. It wasn’t a record they were hoping to break. On Saturday, it was simply out of necessity. It had never even occurred to them to try.

With veteran starter Michael Pineda out indefinitely with a fractured right middle finger, the Tigers will have to find similarly creative ways to deliver quality pitching, hopefully with fewer pitchers. But at 11-23, they’re not interested in how they win, just that they win. They’ve won back-to-back games in a series for the first time since April 14-15 at Kansas City, and they have a chance Sunday to sweep the Orioles and salvage a 4-4 record out of what looked earlier in the week like a completely doomed homestand.

“We want that vibe. We want that winning vibe,” said Jeimer Candelario, who played a part in two of the four double plays the Tigers infield turned, including a key one on Anthony Santander after a leadoff single in the ninth. “That’s the chemistry. That’s what we did last year. If we have that vibe, we know we can go out there and win another ballgame.”

“Like I said a couple days ago, winning’s contagious,” said Spencer Torkelson, whose short-hop play and throw on a Cedric Mullins grounder started a key double play behind reliever Wily Peralta in the third inning.

It was a different feeling than what Tigers infielders had as they watched Pineda’s finger swell up almost immediately after Ramón Urías’ comebacker hit it. The line drive had a 105.9 mile-per-hour exit velocity, and while the deflection redirected the ball to second baseman Jonathan Schoop for a routine play at first, the out was costly.

“When we went out there, we thought it was his hand,” manager A.J. Hinch said, “and then you could see his finger swell up, he couldn’t bend it.”

Though Pineda — who retired all four batters he faced — was fairly stoic, he barely moved his arm as head athletic trainer Doug Teter checked on him. He left the game without attempting a warmup pitch, another bad sign.

Pineda will undergo more tests and consult with specialists to get a better idea about his next steps and how long he can expect to miss. The Tigers have to plan on losing him for a while, another blow for a starting rotation already missing Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tyler Alexander.

Manning, out since mid-April with shoulder tightness, threw 3 2/3 solid innings of one-run ball with four strikeouts Friday in a rehab start for Triple-A Toledo. The Tigers planned to have him throw one more rehab outing next week to stretch him out, but Hinch didn’t rule out Manning as an option to return in Pineda’s spot when asked after Saturday’s win. Tigers No. 16 prospect Alex Faedo, who has delivered five innings of two-run ball in two starts and is slated to start Monday against the Rays, would then likely stick around in the rotation.

“We’ll make the best decision for Matty,” Hinch said. “We haven’t talked about it, but we need to make sure he’s good. It might feel better to write his name on the [lineup] card, but if he’s not ready to compete at this level or go deeper into games, you can start chasing your tail in the wrong way.”

Those are decisions for the coming days. On Saturday, the Tigers needed to find 23 outs from a bullpen that had already been worked heavily this week. Wily Peralta, another potential starting candidate, covered 2 2/3 innings despite two walks with help from two double plays behind him. Jason Foley, just recalled from Toledo, showed off the power fastball the Tigers hope he’s learning to utilize, along with his sinker-slider combination, for two innings.

“Obviously when they sent him down, there were some clear things to work on: Throw a couple more pitches up in the zone, work on the slider a little bit,” Haase said. “That was all clearly evident that he’s been doing a great job.”

The Tigers bullpen has been a much-needed bright spot for most of the season, though a late loss to Oakland on Thursday and a ninth-inning jam Friday showed a hiccup. Will Vest replaced Gregory Soto and stranded the bases loaded Friday, but Hinch went back to Soto in the ninth Saturday. Once he fanned Urías, the Tigers had a much-deserved win as they pondered how to keep the turnaround going with another rotation spot to fill.

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