Detroit — Tigers manager AJ Hinch has been saying it all season — it’s not always about how hard you hit it or how far — it’s about moving baseballs forward, putting them in play, making the opposition have to make plays.
The Tigers, the lowest-scoring team in baseball (averaging 2.8 runs per game), kept putting balls in play Monday, some hard, some soft, they forced defensive mistakes and they kept finding ways to push runs across the plate.
“The game is action and we created some innings today,” Hinch said after the Tigers beat the Central Division-leading Minnesota Twins, 7-5, in the first of a five-game, four-day set at Comerica Park. “We got some big hits. I thought we ran the bases effectively. There was a lot to like today.
“Balls in play can be your friend.”
They banged out 13 hits, the most since collecting 20 against the Rockies on April 23. Jonathan Schoop led the charge with a single, double and triple.
“If I can get going, we’re going to win a lot of games,” Schoop said. “I know they count on me for that. That’s why I’m here. To help the team win.”
The double was his 1,000th career hit. He’s the third player from Curacao to produce at least 1,000 hits. Playfully told he was the king of Curacao, Schoop said, “No, you can’t say that. You can’t disrespect Andruw Jones.”
Fair enough. But Schoop played an integral role in a two-run seventh when the Tigers broke a 4-4 tie. He tripled to lead off the inning and it looked as if he would be stranded there after Javier Báez grounded out.
Jeimer Candelario followed with another infield ground ball. This time Schoop broke for home. The ball beat him to the plate easily but he smartly stayed in a rundown long enough for Candelario to get into scoring position.
Spencer Torkelson followed, rolling a ground ball to first base that should have ended the inning, but first baseman Jose Miranda threw the ball behind pitcher Joe Smith. Candelario scored and Torkelson went to second.
Willi Castro singled Torkelson home with the sixth run. It was the second RBI single for Castro.
“I think we all had the feeling we were going to win this game,” said Torkelson, who enjoyed the first three-hit game of his young career. “They would score but we weren’t too worried about it. We were going to go put good at-bats together and drive guys in.
“Just a really good team win.”
The Twins, who hit three home runs off Tigers rookie starter Beau Brieske, scored an unearned run off reliever Alex Lange in the eighth, making it a one-run game. Third baseman Gio Urshela, as he was against the Tigers in Minneapolis last week, was in the middle of it.
He’d singled and scored in the fourth, homered in the sixth and in the eighth hit a double down the line in left that scored catcher Gary Sanchez from first. Willi Castro did not pick up the ball cleanly which allowed Sanchez to lumber all the way home.
The Tigers got that run back in the bottom of the eighth on the legs of Derek Hill. Hill, who hit his first home run of the year in the third, walked, took second on a passed ball, and with two outs scored on an infield single by Báez.
Miranda, again, tried to make a long stretch on the throw from third baseman Urshela but the ball caromed off his glove allowing Hill to score.
“We made some things happen today.” Schoop said. “We put some good at-bats together and we passed the baton and believed in each other. We just have to do it more consistently. We have to try to do it day in and day out.”
It was a rough outing for Brieske. He struggled to locate his breaking balls early and watched three mislocated pitches leave the yard.
“Beau didn’t have his best stuff but he kept us in the ballgame,” Torkelson said. “That says a lot about him.”
He’d given up home runs to Sanchez and Miranda earlier, but Brieske was one strike away from posting a quality start and leaving the sixth inning with a 4-3 lead. But he shook off a sign from catcher Tucker Barnhart and left a 3-2 change-up up and over the plate. Urshela launched it 406 feet over the left-field fence.
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It was the 10th home run Brieske has allowed in 36 innings this season.
“He did make an adjustment with his breaking ball, which was bad early,” Hinch said. “Once he started spinning it in the zone and got them off his fastball, he had a chance. Just that one secondary pitch at the end. Tucker didn’t want to go to it but Beau really wanted it and Urshela hit it out of the park.
“It somewhat ruined his day but we were still in the game at the end because he made that adjustment.”
The win snapped the Tigers’ five-game losing streak against the Twins.