Tigers energized by García-Haase battery

Detroit Tigers

SAN FRANCISCO — Rony García almost got through the first inning cleanly. Then came hot-hitting Giants third baseman Evan Longoria, who lofted a ball to deep right field to put the Tigers behind early.

There was nothing else for García to do but move on. And he did: He dug in and retired the side on seven pitches the next inning. Then he settled into a groove, working around some traffic and ultimately putting up zeros the rest of the way.

But García was missing one thing: a lead. His battery partner, Eric Haase, took care of that on one swing in the sixth inning, planting a two-run blast in left-center field. Haase’s home run gave the Tigers their first lead of the series and carried the team to a 3-2 win over the Giants, earning a series split before they head back to Detroit after a three-city road trip.

“Today he was our savior,” García said through interpreter Carlos Guillén. “All of us were happy for him, because as soon as we saw that he hit a home run to go ahead, we knew that we could hold a game and win today.”

Giants starter Alex Wood made quick work of the Tigers in the early innings, retiring nine straight batters after Robbie Grossman led off the game with a double. But when the order flipped around, the Tigers began seeing him better. Haase knew exactly what he was looking for when he stepped to the plate in the sixth.

“I was definitely looking slider. I saw it quite a bit the last couple of at-bats,” Haase said. “Even if you’re sitting on it, it’s still a tough pitch not to swing at. Fortunately for me, I got one in the zone, and it was just something I could handle.”

Haase certainly got all of the 85-mph slider Wood served up, driving it to the seats at 102 mph off the bat and breaking the 1-1 tie. But though García said Haase saved the day, the catcher was equally excited to put his pitcher in line for a win.

“Rony has been picking us up day in and day out with these starts that he’s been putting together,” Haase said. “Anything we’ve asked him to do, he’s done it, and he’s really started to look like a pretty good starter right now.”

Haase should know better than most — he’s caught all but one of García’s starts this season, something manager A.J. Hinch said is just a coincidence. Still, the two have worked well in tandem lately.

García said working with Haase has helped him gain confidence on the mound, which is boosting every aspect of his game.

“The level of confidence is 100%,” García said. “I have the confidence that I can do the job, and also I’m very confident in the team who is behind me supporting me, and giving us all the runs so we can win games.”

García began the season in the bullpen, often pitching multiple innings, but has recently transitioned to a starting role. His first four starts were shaky — the right-hander went 0-2 and gave up 14 earned runs in 18 innings — but he is starting to settle into the role. Including Wednesday’s win, he has now won three straight and posted back-to-back outings allowing a single run.

The Giants presented a challenge for him on Wednesday, throwing a lefty-laden lineup his way, but García challenged them right back over five innings of work.

“He settled in and started spinning the ball a lot better as the game went along,” Hinch said. “We played some defense behind him and made some plays, but even when we didn’t, he came back and threw strikes, which is one of his calling cards.”

Added Haase: “I think young guys come up here, think they have to be really perfect, but now he’s just going out there, making his pitches and staying on the attack, and it’s been great for him.”

If García continues to pitch the way he has of late, the 24-year-old could be setting up some difficult decisions for the Tigers. Right-hander Michael Pineda will likely return from the injured list soon to round out Detroit’s five-man rotation, but the eventual return of other injured starters could force Hinch and the Tigers to rethink García’s role on the team.

“I do like that he’s been resilient in any role that we’ve given him,” Hinch said. “As we get healthier, I think all these guys are going to have to pare down a little bit and be the good versions of themselves to stick in the rotation.”

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