ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Detroit Tigers right-hander Alex Faedo took the mound Monday for his return to Tropicana Field, about 20 miles from his hometown of Tampa and 150 miles from the University of Florida.
It was a homecoming start.
Faedo has spent most of his life in Florida, and he attended many Tampa Bay Rays games as a kid. This time, the 26-year-old rookie entered the ballpark — matched up against 12-year MLB veteran Corey Kluber — and allowed just one run while pitching into the sixth inning.
“Pitch by pitch,” Faedo said. “Don’t try to overthink it. Don’t try to overdo it. I tried my best to not be too anxious out there. It was a dream come true. I’ve been to a ton of games here. I could hear the support in the crowd.”
The Tigers beat the Rays, 3-2, in the first of three matchups in the series to begin a nine-game road trip, extending their winning streak to four games and improving to 13-23 this season.
“We just tried to win the day’s game,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “You guys are going to get tired of that quote, but it’s what I believe, it’s what our team believes. … They are a model franchise, and we took a game from them today and have a chance to win the series tomorrow.”
Faedo, in the third start of his career, put the Tigers in a position to win. Utility player Harold Castro, operating as the first baseman, made sure the team didn’t waste Faedo’s effort.
In the top of the ninth, Castro crushed a go-ahead solo home run to right field off Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge, breaking a 2-2 tie. He hit a second-pitch fastball in an 0-1 count and sent the ball 400 feet with a 103.8 mph exit velocity.
“You don’t see that out of Harold a lot,” Hinch said.
Castro admired his home run and flipped his bat.
It was Castro’s first homer this season and the ninth of his five-year MLB career.
“I was just thinking about making hard contact,” Castro said. “I was just trying to get on base. If I get on base, I know my teammates behind me can do something. I’m not a home run hitter, so I was just trying to make contact and get on base.”
The other big hit for the Tigers: Jonathan Schoop in the fourth inning. He swatted a two-run home run off Kluber’s sinker. Miguel Cabrera, who scored on the long ball, led off the inning with a single.
The home run, Schoop’s third of the year, put the Tigers ahead 2-0. Schoop turned on Kluber’s second-pitch of the plate appearance, hitting the ball 404 feet with a 105.5 mph exit velocity.
“Big swing,” Hinch said. “He’s had good at-bats. … His numbers aren’t doing him justice right now. We know that. He knows that. But he should go home pretty happy today with a big swing.”
Kluber allowed two runs on four hits, without a walk, in six innings. He registered eight strikeouts. Faedo countered with 5⅔ innings of one-run ball, allowing four hits and one walk with four strikeouts.
Faedo tossed 56 of 83 pitches for strikes.
“I just want to go out there when it’s my turn to pitch and give us a chance to win,” Faedo said. “Focus on an inning at a time, a pitch at a time. That’s best for me mentally.”
Bullpen saves the day
The Tigers controlled a 2-1 lead when Hinch removed Faedo, favoring left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin in an important matchup against left-handed hitter Ji-Man Choi.
The Rays had a runner on first base and two outs in the sixth.
Chafin needed one pitch — an 80 mph slider — to induce an inning-ending groundout. He returned for the seventh, allowing a leadoff single to Vidal Bruján before Kevin Kiermaier grounded into a force out.
Righty Alex Lange joined the action to face Mike Zunino, a right-handed slugger, with a runner on first and one out in the seventh.
His first pitch to Zunino, a 95.8 mph sinker, resulted in an inning-ending double play, as Schoop fielded the ball on the run, stepped on second base and completed an off-balance throw to Castro.
Righty Michael Fulmer squandered the 2-1 lead in the eighth on Wander Franco’s sacrifice fly, but left-hander Gregory Soto shut down the Rays, despite a two-out single, for his sixth save.
Faedo solid again
The lone blemish from Faedo came in the sixth inning, when Brett Phillips hit a home run off the catwalk. The Tigers challenged the call on the field but were unsuccessful.
Phillips, a lefty hitter, turned on Faedo’s 91.3 mph fastball in a 2-1 count. The homer trimmed the Tigers’ advantage to one run. Faedo retired the next two batters — Yandy Diaz and Franco — but a single from Randy Arozarena forced his exit with two outs.
“He made quality pitches early and then mixed up his pitches as the outing went along,” Hinch said. “He started throwing sliders, started throwing his changeup. His fastball was pretty good and got better as the outing went on.”
The Tigers’ defense aided Faedo in the second inning.
Choi opened the frame by ambushing Faedo’s first pitch for a double. Three pitches later, Bruján hit a grounder to Schoop at second base. Choi attempted to advance to third base on the play, but Schoop fired the ball to Candelario for the force out. Then, Bruján was caught stealing for the second out, from catcher Tucker Barnhart to shortstop Javier Báez.
“You don’t see that very often on the back throw,” Hinch said of Schoop’s play. “It takes preparation to know the runner. He’s not a fast guy. The ball is hit hard on this turf, and Schoop’s got the best arm at second base in the league.
“A lot of things have to go right there. It’s a super aggressive play. I love it. To beat this team, we said we have to beat them with aggressiveness. He took that to heart.”
Against Kiermaier, Faedo tossed back-to-back changeups for his fourth and fifth pitches of the battle. Doubling up resulted in Kiermaier’s flyout to center field, ending the second inning.
Faedo threw 20 pitches in the first two innings.
He needed 28 pitches in the third inning, despite striking out the first two batters. Franco, the Rays’ most dangerous hitter, stepped to the plate with runners on first and second base and two outs.
Franco lined out on a 3-2 changeup.
“He’s a freakin’ heck of a player,” Faedo said of Franco. “When he’s in the box, he’s the real deal. I was just like, ‘All right, you got to pitch the corners here. You want to get ahead, but you can’t miss over the middle of the plate.’ Tucker called some really good pitches.”
In three starts, Faedo has a 2.87 ERA with four walks and 12 strikeouts across 15⅔ innings.
For his 83 pitches Monday, Faedo used 36 four-seam fastballs (43%), 26 sliders (31%) and 21 changeups (25%).
He recorded 14 swings and misses: three fastballs, eight sliders and three changeups. He posted just nine called strikes, one each with his slider and changeup.
“I was happy with them,” Faedo said of his secondary pitches. “We threw a couple of them behind in counts, a couple of 3-2 ones. If you can split up pitches and not just 2-1, 2-0 have to go the heater, and the catcher trusts you can really locate a good one, it’s going to really help.
“Being able to do that with some changeups the last couple games has really helped me a lot.”