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).
Bieber, who came in averaging 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings against the Tigers in his career, allowed four singles (two by rookie Riley Greene) and a walk with eight strikeouts. He allowed one runner into scoring position.
After going 17 straight innings without a run, the Tigers put one on the board in the ninth. Reliever Eli Morgan loaded the bases with nobody out and nearly got out of it. 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 to Akil Baddoo went to the backstop, allowing a second run to score.
Baddoo grounded out.
Tyler Alexander, for the third straight start, gave the Tigers a fighting chance to win a baseball game.
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.
He got some unique help from his defense in the fourth inning. Amed Rosario, leading off the inning, lashed a ball over left fielder Akil Baddoo’s head. Baddoo fielded it clean off the carom but his throw to second was well offline heading toward right field.
First baseman Harold Castro alertly was there to field the overthrow and he was able to nab Rosario at third trying to stretch his double.
The Guardians broke through against Alexander in the fifth. Owen Miller dunked a one-out single to shallow center, went to third on a 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 manager AJ Hinch sent him back out for the seventh. Alexander set the Guardians down in order in eight pitches.
Cleveland tacked on three more runs against reliever Will Vest in the eighth. With two out and two on, Oscar Gonzalez drove a two-run double off the wall in right field and scored on a single by Naylor.
Tough night for Javier Báez.
He 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.
The second at-bat was even more frustrating for him. He’d fouled off a fastball and a slider and was behind in the count 1-2. Báez, thinking Bieber was taking too long to throw, apparently asked home plate umpire Andy Fletcher for time.
The ask was late and it was verbal. Báez didn’t hold out his hand or step out of the box. Fletcher didn’t grant him time and Báez just stood there and watched the third strike go by.
In his third at-bat, Báez finally squared up a Bieber fastball but his line drive was caught on the track in left.