The Tigers (43-70) — worst in the American League Central and the third MLB team to reach 70 losses — have fallen short in 23 of 30 games dating to July 9, including consecutive losses since owner Christopher Ilitch fired general manager Al Avila before Wednesday’s game.
Designated hitter Kerry Carpenter finished 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and has not reached base through two games in his MLB career.
“I just got to get better,” said shortstop Javier Báez, who went 2-for-5 with one home run and two strikeouts. “We lost by a run, and I made two errors and cost us a run. I got to play better defense, and on offense not leave so many runners on base.”
Detroit’s offense scored seven runs in the three-game series, and on Thursday, the underperforming lineup posted seven hits, two walks and 14 strikeouts. The seven hits came from Báez, Victor Reyes (single), Willi Castro (two singles and a double) and Jonathan Schoop (double).
Two runs from the Tigers in the bottom of the ninth inning knotted the score at three and sent the game to extra innings. Manager A.J. Hinch brought in closer Gregory Soto to pitch the top of the 10th.
Soto retired the first two batters, but 24-year-old rookie Oscar Gonzalez slapped a second-pitch sinker into right-center field. The ball traveled far enough for Jose Ramirez — the free extra-innings runner — to score from second for a 4-3 lead.
“The difference is a ball that’s a little bit up,” Hinch said. “He was trying to go down and away to Gonzalez, but the ball is up and he makes contact. But we had a free base runner, too. It wasn’t Gregory’s fault. He hit a mistake that was up a little bit and put the ball in play. That was the difference in the game.”
Three Tigers hitters — Reyes, Báez and Harold Castro — failed to push a run across in the bottom of the 10th against right-handed reliever Bryan Shaw. Báez and Castro struck out swinging to strand Greene (who opened the inning at second) at third to end the game.
“You got to get the ball in play,” Hinch said. “If you watch the two teams in the games that are close, there’s just a lot more pressure when you put the ball in play. I understand it’s not as easy as just saying, ‘Touch it.’ We can talk about it and talk about it and talk about it. It’s tough in the game when the situation calls for a ball in play and see what happens.
“We didn’t put as much pressure on them as they put on us, and then at the end, they get a two-out hit and we don’t.”
The Tigers, trailing 3-1, rallied against right-hander Trevor Stephan in the bottom of the ninth inning, as Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase was unavailable due to his recent workload. Harold Castro and Willi Castro reached on a walk and a single, respectively, before Schoop ripped a double past the third baseman and into left field.
Down 3-2, the Tigers had runners on second and third base with nobody out. Carpenter struck out for the first out, then Miguel Cabrera — pinch-hitting for Tucker Barnhart — was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Righty Enyel De Los Santos replaced Stephan for a matchup with Eric Haase.
Haase hit the ball back toward De Los Santos.
The ball deflected off the pitcher and bounced to second baseman Andres Gimenez. He flipped to shortstop Amed Rosario covering the bag for the second out, but in the process, Willi Castro scored. Gimenez dropped the ball on the transfer, preventing an attempt at a double play. The Tigers challenged the out call at second, but it was upheld upon review.
Rookie Riley Greene, who finished 0-for-5 with three strikeouts, struck out swinging to strand runners on the corners.
Sacked by Plesac
Guardians right-hander Zach Plesac, who entered with a 4.49 ERA in 20 starts, faced the most pressure in the fourth inning, when Báez’s one-out single and Castro’s two-out double put two runners in scoring position.
But Schoop popped out on a first-pitch fastball.
In the sixth, the Tigers finally scored.
Plesac quickly retired Greene and Reyes — the top two batters in the Tigers’ order — before battling Báez for the third time. Báez hammered a third-pitch fastball in the strike zone for a solo home run. The ball traveled 380 feet and cleared the wall in left field.
He has a team-high 11 home runs this season.
“They know what I can do,” Báez said. “This series, especially, I saw a lot of fastballs. I know I can hit the fastball, but I wasn’t looking for it. I guess they knew it. I saw it a lot, but it wasn’t part of my plan. They pitched to me really good.”
After Báez’s homer, Harold Castro drew a walk.
Plesac escaped further damage by striking out Willi Castro looking with a ninth-pitch curveball. He also struck out three straight batters in the first inning: Greene (fastball, swinging), Reyes (changeup, swinging) and Báez (fastball, looking).
Plesac allowed one run on four hits and one walk with seven strikeouts across 6⅓ innings, throwing 63 of 100 pitches for strikes. He recorded 14 swings and misses with all four pitches: four fastballs, two changeups, two curveballs and six sliders.
“He was throwing a lot of changeups to me,” Willi Castro said. “The two hits I got against him were changeups. I think he only threw me one fastball today.”
Running up that Hill
Right-hander Garrett Hill, making the seventh start of his MLB career, worked under duress for most of his outing, but the 26-year-old rookie gave up three runs (one earned run) on four hits and two walks with one strikeout.
The Guardians scored one run each in the second, fourth and fifth innings.
“Maybe a little of unintentional nibbling (around the strike zone),” Hill said. “That led to getting into deeper at-bats and not finishing guys as early as I would have liked.”
In the second, Báez tried to turn a double play after Harold Castro’s diving stop, but the shortstop threw wild to first base as Hill rushed to cover the bag. Báez’s 18th error this season allowed the runner to score easily from third base for a 1-0 Guardians advantage.
“I think I’m just leaning forward or not using my left hand to target where I want to throw the ball,” Báez said. “I haven’t matched my arm with my balance, and the ball is tailing a little bit. As long as I keep playing hard and trying my 100%, I’m going to be myself. … It was a hard decision to eat the ball or try to get him, but I’m not going to stop being myself because I’m making a lot of errors. I just got to be focused and play better.”
Another error doomed Hill in the fourth. After Andres Gimenez reached on a hit-by-pitch, Oscar Gonzalez reached safely on a fielder’s choice. Willi Castro, the third baseman, committed a fielding error and both runners were safe.
A two-out RBI single from Luke Maile increased Cleveland’s margin to 2-0.
The Guardians scored their third run — Hill’s first earned run — in the fifth, when Steven Kwan connected with a curveball at the bottom of the strike zone for a solo home run and a 3-0 lead. It was Kwan’s third homer this season.
For Hill’s 89 pitches (54 strikes), he tossed 45 four-seam fastballs (51%), 22 sliders (25%), 12 sinkers (13%), six changeups (7%) and four curveballs (4%). He recorded three swings and misses and 14 called strikes.
“What I don’t want is our guys to think that they have to be perfect because of the lack of offense recently,” Hinch said. “But he kept us in the game. When he handed the ball to the bullpen, the game was still winnable.”
Four relievers held the Guardians scoreless: Jose Cisnero in the sixth inning, Jason Foley in the seventh, Will Vest in the eighth and Luis Castillo in the ninth. Vest worked around two hits and recorded the lone strikeout among the group.
Báez was responsible for his 19th error in the ninth inning.
“We got to keep working,” Hinch said. “We got a long way to go. When we don’t play clean, that margin for error is pretty small. We feel it, and I think that creates more issues moving forward. We’ll keep working.”