Chicago — Jeimer Candelario came into the game hitting .186 and slugging a meager .303. He hadn’t hit a home run since May 29. He had two hits in his last 20 at-bats. He’s been losing playing time to Harold Castro and Kody Clemens.
But all was well Friday night. He had his talisman on the mound. Good things seem to happen when he faces White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito.
Candelario hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning to tie the game and then lined a two-out RBI single in the seventh to break the tie and trigger a four-run outburst that sent the Tigers to a 7-5 win over the Southsiders.
“It always feels great to contribute to the team,” Candelario said. “You want to contribute. You want to be in the lineup every single day. You want to produce. This is the big leagues, we’ve got to produce and win ballgames. We’ve got to perform.
“That’s what we’ve been working really hard to do.”
Candelario is now 11-for-32 against Giolito, who going into the sixth inning had allowed just one hit. His tie-breaking single ended the night for Giolito.
“I’ve faced him a lot in my career,” he said. “You’ve got to make the adjustment. He’s a guy who feels good about his changeup and his fastball.”
Candelario homered on a changeup.
“I wasn’t sitting on the changeup,” he said. “I was just trying to see the fastball and hit it the other way. But threw me the changeup and I was ready to react.”
The Tigers continued to do damage against reliever Joe Kelly and as it turned out, it was a good thing they did.
Willi Castro singled in a run and Javier Baez, who was booed lustily throughout the night and seemed to revel in it, ripped a two-run double down the left field line. It was his second hit of the night. Four runs scored after two outs, three charged to Giolito’s ledger.
“Javy’s ability to thrive in those moments is very unique,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Most people, players, coaches, me, we don’t love that environment because it can get a little intimidating. But Javy thrives in it. He asks for it and he delivers when it happens.”
The Tigers led 7-2 going into the eighth inning and things got dicey quickly. Against relievers Jason Foley and Tyler Alexander, the White Sox reeled off four straight two-out singles and cut the lead to 7-5.
With two on, Chicago manager Tony La Russa summoned right-handed hitting Andrew Vaughn to pinch-hit. Alexander struck him out on three pitches.
Michael Fulmer closed it out, but not without drama. He hit Tim Anderson with one out and gave up a single to AJ Pollock. But he struck out Luis Robert and got Abreu to fly to right.
It was the second night in a row they got Abreu you out in the ninth inning with tying and winning runs on the bases.
“A win is a win,” Fulmer said. “Today of all days I was feeling for my slider. With runners on first and third, I finally found the adjustment and I was able to throw four good ones to Robert.
“I’m glad I was able to make that adjustment on the fly. (Catcher Eric) Haase stuck with it as well. He still trusted it, so I trusted it.”
It was the Tigers’ sixth straight win and it marked, potentially, a turnaround performance by lefty starter Tarik Skubal. He might not think of it as a breakthrough, but he certainly seemed to get his train back on the tracks.
He’d yielded 18 runs in 18.1 innings over his previous four starts and he got jumped early in this one.
Luis Robert, the third hitter of the game, hit a first-pitch, pedestrian 93-mph four-seam fastball 449 feet into the seats in left field, a two-run shot.
Abreu followed with a double to the wall in left-center.
Whether that was a “screw-it” moment or not, Skubal started attacking hitters, fiercely and effectively. His fastball ticked up, hitting 96 and 97 mph. His slider was firm (90 mph) and he was landing off-speed pitches – changeups and the knuckle curve.
“I think as some point, I don’t want to say you take it personal, but you just kind of stand up for yourself,” Hinch said.
Besides an opposite-field double by Josh Harrison on an 0-2 emergency swing and two infield hits that could easily have been scored as errors, Skubal allowed no more damage through six innings, striking out seven earning a quality start and leaving with the score tied at 2.
“I feel like I was able to use everything tonight and I was able to slow them down and speed them up,” Skubal said. “I was throwing changeups in fastball counts and I thought my slider was good today. That’s the pitch that hasn’t been good for me lately but I got it back to the movement it normally has.
“I was able to attack with that pitch.”
His two subsequent punch-outs of Abreu were impressive. He won an eight-pitch battle in the third. With the count full, Skubal threw him two 97-mph sinkers then got him to swing and miss at a 90-mph slider.
He got him again in the sixth, this time punching him out with back-to-back changeups.
Skubal got 15 swings and misses on 48 swings – five each with his slider and changeup. He also got 13 called strikes, five with his two-seamer which he was able to locate on the inner part of the zone against the all-right-handed White Sox lineup.
“That was significantly better than my last outing,” he said. “I was able to command that pitch and run it where it looks like a ball and it runs back in. That sets up my slider down and in. When I have those two pitches I can make the plate seem wider than it is.”
Skubal seemed more fired about Baez’s crowd management than his own performance.
“I love it,” he said. “He has his hands up after hitting a double. Not many guys can get booed like that. It feels like every time he gets booed he plays better. I don’t know if fans need to get that memo or not.
“For me, I hope they boo him every game. It feels like he plays better.”