Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch spoke to the public about an hour before Wednesday night’s game against the Guardians.
He said he felt for former GM Avila — who had been fired earlier in the afternoon — the man who gave him a chance to manage when he “was on the outside of baseball looking in” and can relate because he too has been on that side of being fired.
Still, he insisted the cloud over the team wouldn’t have any effect on his team’s play or his job — which is to find a way to win no matter what.
The Tigers (43-69) were unable to do so, falling behind early and never finding a way to claw back.
Despite the Tigers’ pitching retiring the final 20 Cleveland hitters, the offense couldn’t capitalize — particularly with runners on the corners and no outs in the fifth and bases-loaded and one-out in the eighth — and lost 3-2 to fall to a season low 26-games below .500.
“We’re professionals, we have to deal with a lot of different things so there’s no excuse or no complaining about the circumstance,” Hinch said. “We’re in the situation we’re in because we haven’t won enough, I keep reminding everybody that’s the real reason.
“Yeah, it’s emotional because it’s a big change, but that didn’t impact the plays during the game or the mood in the dugout, everything was business as usual and we will deal with the consequences of change going forward.”
Hutchison hit hard, limits damage
Tigers starter Drew Hutchison was hit hard out of the gate, giving up a leadoff triple when Steven Kwan ripped a ball to right field.
Jose Ramirez scored him two batters later with an RBI single.
The Guardians added to their lead in the second, stringing four singles and a walk together to take a 3-0 lead.
They would get two more runners on in the third inning, but Hutchison was able to work out of the jam after allowing eight hits through the game’s first 15 batters.
“The first time through the order they did what they do best, which is ball in play,” Hinch said. “There was a point in the third where I wondered if I was going to have to get him and then he got through five pretty strong.
“If he doesn’t recover, it’s a different story.”
At that point it looked like it would be a short night for the Tigers’ starter who’d been designated for assignment twice this season and three times in the past year.
Eight of the balls that were put in play were hit 93.7 mph or harder (a “hard hit” is 95 mph), but Hutchison would settle in.
TIGERS FIRE GM AL AVILA: A quick recap of his disappointing tenure
From the middle of the third through the end of the fifth, he retired eight straight batters including three strikeouts to end his night.
“I just wasn’t sharp early on which led to a lot of hits, as the game went on I got a lot sharper and was able to get into a rhythm,” Hutchison said. “I just didn’t have a lot of life to my pitches…unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the adjustment quick enough.”
Offense tries to battle back
The Tigers, meanwhile, were lifeless early on. They went down in order in each of the first three innings, hitting the ball out of the infield just twice.
But they’d get to Guardians starter Aaron Civale, who entered Wednesday sporting a 6.09 ERA, the second time through the order.
Riley Greene led off the fourth inning with a double, then after a Reyes strikeout, Baez was hit by a pitch and gave Civale a long stare-down before slowly making his way to first base.
Harold Castro followed with by sending a 3-2 pitch into right field to score the Tigers’ first run.
Eric Haase kept the line moving, ripping a double at 107.5 mph to drive in Baez, trimming the deficit to one.
That brought up rookie Kerry Carpenter, making his MLB debut in front of dozens of family and friends. After popping out to third base in his first at bat, Carpenter struck out looking on a curveball.
Jeimer Candelario flew out to right field to end the inning.
The offense would get right back to it in the fifth. Jonathan Schoop smoked a leadoff double down the left field line (108 mph), to bring up Akil Baddoo.
After failing to bunt him over twice, the left fielder hit a dribbler down the third base line putting runners on the corners with no out.
That brought up Greene, who hit a missile (106.2 mph) on the ground, but it was right at Andres Gimenez. The second baseman fired home and got Schoop at the plate by a full step.
“They were playing back, that’s a pretty long throw for Gimenez but he’s obviously very good,” Hinch said. “I think if they wanted to get the out at home they would’ve been playing in, but Riley hit it just hard enough and their guy made a really exceptional play.
“I think Jonathan going is the right decision, the result of the pay is a little unlucky.”
After a Reyes strikeout, Baez hit the ball even harder, 107.9 mph with a .630 expected batting average, but it was right at Amed Rosario, who flipped to second for the force out to end the inning.
Bullpen flawless again
For all of the Tigers flaws this year, the bullpen simply hasn’t been one of them.
Alex Lange needed just 11 pitches in the sixth to retire the Guardians in order, including strikeouts of Nolan Jones and rookie Will Benson — who got his first career hit in the second inning with an RBI single — on sliders.
Next was Joe Jimenez, who was equally efficient thanks to some slick defense.
After forcing a soft groundout to lead off the inning, Kwan hit a line drive to centerfield off Jimenez. Greene paused for a moment, before running in and laying out to make the diving grab.
“Riley Greene is really good,” Hinch said. “The plays in the outfield I think he doesn’t get enough attention on that because we always look at the bat.
“He’s not wowed by the big leagues anymore, he’s starting to face as guys as good as he’s ever going to face and he hates losing and says it every day, which I love.
Rosario struck out to end the inning.
In the eighth, it was Andrew Chafin. The lefty got Ramirez to groundout on one pitch to third, Josh Naylor to hit a chopper to second and Gimenez to wave through a fastball to end the frame.
In stepped Gregory Soto in the ninth, who didn’t miss a beat. He struck out pinch hitter Oscar Gonzalez on three pitches, got the next pinch hitter, Owen Miller, to ground out to second before Hedges lined out to left field.
“It’s nice to see Soto bounce back,” Hinch said. “Especially coming off the last outing. I treated it like it was a tie game or we were one up and they’ve continued to answer the bell.
“Lange was good tonight, (Chafin) was good tonight, you know Joe, too, it was mapped out just how you want had the score been reversed 3-2. They gave us every chance to win.”
Offense can’t break through
Riley Greene led off the eighth inning with a single up the box.
On the next pitch, Reyes appeared to be hit on the hand, but the call on the field was it hit the knob of the bat, foul ball. Hinch challenged and the call was quickly overturned.
Baez then struck out on a full-count pitch. Castro wasted no time in his at-bat, singling to right on the first pitch he saw to load the bases for Haase.
After falling behind 0-2 in the count, Haase would work it full. He fouled off four pitches and took three balls before he swung through a 96 mph fastball on the final pitch of the at bat.
That brought up the rookie Carpenter, who struck out for the third time on the day, as he finished his debut 0-for-4.
“It was a lot of fun, that was a cool experience,” Carpenter said. “I was focused on trying to stick to my approach and he beat me that at bat, but that’s all I was focused on.
“Ready to do the same thing, get back in my routine and get back at it tomorrow.”
After Candelario and Schoop struck out to start the ninth, Baddoo reached on another infield single an advanced to second when the throw went into the Guardians dugout.
Greene grounded out to first to end the game.
“I feel like 1-9 we can get it done,” Greene said. “It didn’t go our way tonight but you know, it might tomorrow.”
Contact Tony Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.