Riley Greene, one of the best prospects in baseball, made his MLB debut and shined for the Detroit Tigers on Saturday, and Robbie Grossman, Javier Báez and Eric Haase crushed home runs.
As the offense finally sparked, right-hander Rony García completed six innings in his fifth start this season. He struck out five, didn’t walk a batter and tossed a career-high 92 pitches in the 14-7 home win over the Texas Rangers.
“He’s commanding his breaking ball a little bit better,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s one that I think experience will help his confidence. He’s challenging some guys and is realizing, if he can get into leverage counts, it’s a lot easier than falling behind.”
Garcia, a 2019 Rule 5 draft pick, has a 4.97 ERA across 38 innings in 13 games (five starts), with nine walks and 41 strikeouts. Not bad, considering García wasn’t supposed to be with the Tigers coming out of spring training or starting games in the majors in June.
“It makes me happy,” García, 24, said. “Down there in the bullpen, I learned a lot of things that made me better as a starter.”
He allowed four runs (three earned runs) against the Rangers. Three of those runs were scored in the sixth inning.
Saturday’s start marked his longest outing in the big leagues and his longest outing in professional baseball since Aug. 9, 2019, when he pitched for Double-A Trenton with the New York Yankees.
“This is the first time I’ve seen him as an extended starter, getting stretched out,” catcher Eric Haase said. “That’s what you always worry about, the second and third time through the lineup. A lot of guys with three different pitches can tear up one time through the lineup, and then it’s a constant adjustment.
“I think he started running out of gas a little bit at the end, but he goes, ‘Papi, that’s the first time I’ve been past four innings since 2019.’ That was huge for him. He gave us a great start and looked really good.”
García credits his breaking ball for his all-around success, along with his career-high 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings. He has a 27.3% strikeout rate, much improved from 14.6% across 21 innings in 2020 and 16.7% across 3⅔ innings in 2021.
Opponents are hitting .162 against his slider, which Statcast registers as a curveball, with 19 strikeouts and a 38.5% swing-and-miss rate. There have been six hits off his slider: three singles, one double and two home runs.
He crafted his slider in the Dominican Winter League this past offseason.
“I worked on my grip and staying in a good position to throw the ball better,” García said. “It gives me a lot of confidence because I have a pitch that I can throw at any moment in the pitch count.”
The Tigers, beginning Monday, dropped to a four-man starting rotation García, Tarik Skubal, Beau Brieske and Alex Faedo, made possible by days off June 23, June 27 and June 30 throughout the current eight-game road trip.
On July 1, the Tigers will return to a five-man rotation.
Injuries have plagued the Tigers’ rotation, but García has earned his spot for the time being.
He has pitched just 30 games and 62⅔ innings in his MLB career, which dates to 2020, though his confidence grows each time he takes the mound.
“He’s been a nice boost for us,” Hinch said. “He didn’t really have a role on the team that was well defined. This opportunity for him to showcase his stuff, at least a couple time through the order, he’s been very effective.”
As García solidified himself in the starting rotation, the Tigers cut a spot starter from the 26-man to reach the required 13 pitchers and 13 position players. Before Monday, teams could carry a maximum of 14 pitchers.
Right-hander Drew Hutchison was designated for assignment after Sunday’s start against the Rangers.
The 31-year-old started two games in June, serving as the replacement for absent left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez. In those two starts, Hutchison allowed five runs across 8⅔ innings with four walks and two strikeouts.
To fill Hutchison’s spot, the Tigers activated third baseman Jeimer Candelario from the injured list. The 28-year-old landed on the injured list June 7, retroactive to June 6, with a left shoulder subluxation.
Candelario played four games for Triple-A Toledo on his rehab assignment, hitting .375 with two doubles, one home run, three RBIs, two walks and three strikeouts in four games. He has a .181 batting average with five homers in 52 games for the Tigers this season.
Sunday marked the second time the Tigers have designated Hutchison for assignment this season. He made the Opening Day roster out of spring training as a reliever, due to several injuries, and pitched 10 games out of the bullpen.
Hutchinson was designated for assignment May 11, became a free agent May 13 and re-signed with the Tigers on May 19. He was then called up from Triple-A Toledo on June 14.
Something to monitor
Utility player Harold Castro was not in Monday’s lineup against the Boston Red Sox. He was hit by a pitch, just above his knee and near his hamstring, during the first inning in Sunday’s win and exited the game in the sixth inning.
“He started feeling some tightness in his calf as the game went along,” Hinch said. “We saw the video of him running, wasn’t great. It just started getting tight. That’s the fastest way to injury something else, is playing through that.”
Castro is considered day-to-day. He is hitting .281 with four home runs, three walks and 27 strikeouts in 45 games.
“He’s going to be fine,” Hinch said. “It’s bruised.”