Detroit — It was former Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber chopping them up on Tuesday, but the way the Tigers have swung the bats the last two games, it might not have mattered who was on the mound.
After being shut out on three hits by the Rays on Sunday, Bieber blanked them over seven innings and the Cleveland Guardians opened the three-game set at Comerica Park with a 5-2 win.
The Tigers are now 2-8 in their last 10 games and 25 games under .500 (43-68). And, apparently, enough is enough.
After the game, the Tigers announced they were going to purchase the contract of the hottest hitter in the organization — 24-year-old outfielder Kerry Carpenter.
“He is going DH and make his Major League debut (Wednesday),” manager AJ Hinch said.
Why not? Carpenter, a 19th round pick in 2019, has slugged 30 home runs and knocked in 75 runs between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. In 33 games with the Mud Hens, he’s slashing .342/.433/.667 with a 1.10 OPS.
“Tonight was a little pro-Bieber and a little frustration on our end,” Hinch said.
Going into the ninth inning, the Tigers hadn’t scored a run in 17 innings. They had 19 strikeouts and just one walk in that span. They managed just four singles and a walk in seven innings against Bieber, with eight strikeouts.
Only one runner moved into scoring position.
“It was hard against Bieber,” Hinch said. “He went through our lineup and he was dotting balls away early. We went to a more aggressive approach in the middle of the game and his pitch count was down. We made him work a little bit at the tail end.
“Our guys are still trying but that’s a tough task tonight, especially when Bieber was locating pitches like he was.”
Here’s a couple illustrations of how befuddled Bieber had the Tigers’ hitters.
Javier Baez was called out on strikes his first two at-bats against Bieber. In the first one, he took four fastballs, two for strikes and two for balls. After fouling off a slider out of the zone, he stood and watched another center-cut fastball go by.
For a hitter who struggles so mightily against breaking balls (.171 average, 45% whiff rate), sitting on sliders seems like a bad plan, especially with two strikes.
In his second at-bat, he tried and failed to get home plate umpire Andy Fletcher to give him timeout on a 1-2 pitch. So he stood and watched as Bieber floated a slider over the heart of the plate.
“He was mixing a lot pitches tonight,” said Willi Castro, who struck out with runners at first and second and no outs in the seventh. “He wasn’t throwing fastballs at all to me but he was executing pretty good.”
Castro didn’t see fastballs from Bieber in his first two at-bats (single and strikeout). But he said he was still hunting fastballs when he came up in the seventh.
“You’ve got to stick to one pitch against him,” he said. “Obviously I was looking for fastballs and didn’t really throw it to me. I didn’t get the job done. I was looking for a fastball and he didn’t throw it to me.”
The Tigers finally got on the board in the ninth, though reliever Eli Morgan very nearly escaped a bases-loaded, no-out mess. He dispatched Willi Castro (line out to short) and Jonathan Schoop (strikeout) but walked pinch-hitter Eric Haase to force in a run.
The Guardians brought in All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase, whose first pitch went to the backstop, allowing a second run to score, before he got Akil Baddoo to ground out and end the game.
Forcing the Guardians to use their closer was the closest thing to a win for the Tigers.
“He’s pitched three times in four days now, so I don’t know if he’ll be available tomorrow,” Hinch said. “It wasn’t a huge workload for him but getting him in the game was a plus. We play these guys a lot over the next seven to 10 days.”
Wasted was another strong start by Tyler Alexander, who for the third straight start gave the Tigers a fighting chance to win a baseball game.
“He’s a valuable pitcher,” Hinch said. “His approach to the game, his ‘beat me over the plate’ mentality is really good. He’ll have a day where he sprays it but not many.”
The lefty pitched a career-high tying seven innings and, for the third straight start, limited his opponent to two runs. He was pounding the strike zone from the start (71% strike rate) and expertly mixed his five pitches.
Alexander had the Guardians hitters off-balance enough to get 12 called strikes with his 90-mph four-seam fastball.
“All of those first-pitch strikes were four-seamers,” Alexander said. “Maybe they were sitting soft early in the count because that’s what I typically throw. But I got a lot of first-pitch strikes with the four-seam.
“I have a plan. I wasn’t trying to get strikeouts — which I never do, obviously. But I was getting ahead in the count and it kept my pitch-count down and I got through seven innings.”
The Guardians broke through against Alexander in the fifth. Owen Miller dunked a one-out single to shallow center, went to third on a ground-ball single to right by Andres Gimenez and scored on a sacrifice fly by Austin Hedges.
He seemed to be leaking oil in the sixth when he gave up back-to-back doubles to Steven Kwan and Rosario. But with runners at the corners and one out, he got Josh Naylor to bounce into a 3-6-3 double-play.
He was at 76 pitches and Hinch sent him back out for the seventh. Alexander set the Guardians down in order in eight pitches.
“He earned it,” Hinch said. “The easy thing to do is go rescue them all the time and go to the pen. We’re about to play 10 games in nine days so we need our rotation to give us as much as they can. It was a close game and they weren’t hitting him hard.
“I thought Tyler was in command of his pitches and controlling contact. A couple of ground ball hits aren’t going to get me to panic on Tyler.”
To clear a spot for Carpenter, the Tigers optioned outfielder Daz Cameron back to Toledo. They will have to clear a spot on the 40-man roster before the game Wednesday.
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