Health issues can’t dampen Tigers’ victory over Guardians in series finale

Detroit News

Detroit — Manager AJ Hinch didn’t want to talk about it, not that anyone could blame him.

“We won a series, that’s really what matters,” he said after the Tigers took the finale from the Guardians 2-1 Sunday at Comerica Park.

No question. But yet, the Tigers had to pull another starting pitcher for health reasons and may have lost outfielder Robbie Grossman for a couple of days.

“We definitely feel like we’re taking it on the chin but we won a series against a division team,” Hinch said. “We had a couple of really good swings, we got really good pitching — another day another injury, but we won a series and that’s what we wanted to do.”

BOX SCORE: Tigers 2, Guardians 1

Rookie Elvin Rodriguez had cruised through four innings Sunday allowing two singles in his second big-league start and had a 1-0 lead when he went back out for the fifth.

A few minutes later, head athletic trainer Doug Teter was on the mound, Rodriguez was trying to stretch out some tightness in his leg and then limped off the field. Another starting pitcher down, though he shouldn’t be down for long.

The Tigers announced he was experiencing cramping in his lower body.

“Hated that he had to come out,” Hinch said. “Man did he pitch well. Great pace, good stuff. He was keeping them off-balance. That was encouraging. But he was cramping up on the mound just standing there. That’s never good.

“The decision to take him out was easy but it was unfortunate because he’d been in complete control.”

An inning earlier, Robbie Grossman was pulled out of the game after just one at-bat. He was filling in as the designated hitter because Miguel Cabrera was sitting out with tightness in his lower back. Grossman popped out to third in the first inning and didn’t return.

Hinch said Grossman was dealing with neck spasms on the left side.

“He locked up pretty good,” he said. “I think it bothered him pre-game but I didn’t know about that. He tried to go, then took a swing and didn’t feel right.”

Jeimer Candelario, who was supposed to have the day off, was inserted into the DH spot. And in his first at-bat, he nearly took out first base coach Gary Jones. He scalded a liner foul that struck Jones in the leg. Jones fell awkwardly but after a few minutes was helped back up and he stayed in the game.

“We weren’t sure when he went out there if it was because of the impact or if he twisted his knee,” Hinch said. “He just needed a minute to collect himself. It turned out OK. I thought (Guardians first baseman Josh) Naylor had the best line. He said, ‘The toothpick (which Jones always has in his mouth during the game) never moved.'”

Coming into the game, the Tigers’ injured list was 12 players deep, half of them starting pitchers.

Just an insane run of bad fortune.

“There’s not a lot of options but to move forward and keep playing hard,” shortstop Javier Báez  said. “Our bullpen has been really good for us. It’s been pretty hard on them but they’re doing a great job.”

Rodriguez, keeping the Cleveland hitters off balance with a lively fastball (93-95 mph) and change-up, allowed two singles and struck out four in his four innings. And the Tigers had finally scratched Guardians’ starter Triston McKenzie.

“It is very frustrating,” Rodriguez said through Tigers bilingual interpreter Carlos Guillen. “I was doing very well for four innings. To have to come out of a game in the middle of a very good outing is a little bit uncomfortable.”

McKenzie in four previous starts against the Tigers had given up only two runs in 23 innings and he blew through the first three innings Sunday allowing only a single to Derek Hill.

But with one out in the fourth, white-hot Harold Castro lined a hanging slider just over the fence in left field. The oppo shot was his fourth on the season and his third in five days.

Candelario came through in the sixth, lining a curve ball from McKenzie into the seats in right field. It was his third hit in 27 at-bats, two of them homers. He’s got five on the season.

That left the rest to the Tigers’ bullpen.

After Wily Peralta and Alex Lange processed seven outs, with Lange striking out a pair in 1.1 innings, the Guardians pushed across a run against lefty Andrew Chafin in the seventh. Singles by Andres Gimenez and pinch-hitter Owen Miller set up a sacrifice fly by Luke Maile.

Michael Fulmer worked a scoreless eighth and he got some sterling defensive work behind him.

Báez made a tough backhand stab on a hard-hit ball by speedy Myles Straw. First baseman Spencer Torkelson made an even better play to stretch, keep his foot on the base and scoop the ball out of the dirt.

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The next hitter, Amed Rosario hit a bullet into the gap in right-center. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 103 mph. But right fielder Daz Cameron got a good jump on it and ran it down.

Statcast had a 60% hit probability on the play.

“This is the second time Daz has beat us with his glove,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “He made a great play. We’ve got to make our chances. We didn’t have many very opportunities.”

After Jose Ramirez walked and stole second, Fulmer dotted a two-strike slider that caught Josh Naylor looking for the third out.

Gregory Soto closed it out, earning his eighth save.

The win was just the Tigers’ seventh in 27 games against the Guardians at Comerica Park.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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