Kansas City, Mo. — It was a little surprising to see manager AJ Hinch bounce out of the dugout with two outs and a man on in the bottom of the seventh inning Friday night.
The Tigers were up big and rookie left-hander Joey Wentz had allowed just two hits and was at 87 pitches. But, as usual, Hinch had good motive.
“I told him that it’s pretty awesome to come back and pitch in front of your family and friends,” he said. “These are smart fans and they’re going to give you a nice ovation. Enjoy this walk. It doesn’t happen very often. Especially on the road.”
Hinch orchestrated a very rare but deserving road curtain call for Wentz, a former prep star from nearby Prairie Village who threw 6⅔ scoreless innings in his first start as a big-leaguer at Kauffman Stadium where he attended games as a kid and earned his first big-league win in the Tigers’ 10-2 romp over the Royals.
“Definitely cool,” said Wentz, who was making his first big-league start since May 31. “Your first major league win is special anywhere but it’s probably a little more special to have a lot of family and friends here to watch. And my win comes on a pretty good night for the whole team, which is also very good.”
Wentz was the Kansas City metro prep player of the year in 2016 at Shawnee Mission East. His grandfather has had Royals season tickets since the 1980s.
“I wasn’t really thinking about that, but yeah, I came here a lot as a kid thinking maybe I’d be out there one day,” he said. “So it was really cool. AJ said you’re going to walk off in front of your family and friends. That was special for me.”
Wentz looked like a much different pitcher that he did back in May when he made two spot starts for the Tigers, before being shut down for two months with a shoulder injury.
“Just his composure on the mound tonight was completely different than what we saw earlier,” said catcher Eric Haase, who led the offense with two home runs and three RBIs. “He was very calm, cool and confident. I don’t know if it was because he was throwing in front of his home crowd or what, but how he handled himself tonight was a lot better than we’ve seen in the past.
“He looked extremely confident.”
Wentz was spotting his 93-mph four-seam fastball expertly (12 called strikes) and using his cutter, a relatively new weapon for him, and curveball out of the same arm slot to great success.
“I thought all my pitches were good,” Wentz said. “Haase called a great game and I just threw what he called. I was really happy I was able to land some curveballs. That can be big for me going forward.”
He struck out five and the 17 balls the Royals put in play had an average exit velocity of 79.6 mph. A lot of soft contact. Impressive stuff, especially coming off just four starts at Triple-A Toledo, only one lasting as long as six innings.
“Our development people — Gabe Ribas (pitching coordinator), Stephanos Stroop (coordinator) and Doug Bochtler (Toledo pitching coach) — have done a great job with Joey,” Hinch said. “Getting him harnessed in to challenging the strike zone and challenging hitters with multiple pitches.
“Our player development group deserves a lot of credit.”
It didn’t hurt, as Wentz was quick to point out, that he had a 4-0 cushion by the time he took the mound in the second inning.
“It goes without saying that when you get all of those runs, it makes it a lot easier to pitch,” he said.
The Tigers beat up on Kansas City lefty Daniel Lynch for the second time in seven days. He gave up a couple of homers in the fifth inning at Comerica Park a week ago and repeated the feat in the second inning Friday.
Haase led off the inning by sending a 2-0 fastball into the waterfall in left-center field — a 444-foot blast. It was his seventh straight hit dating back to Tuesday.
His hit streak was snapped in his next at-bat but he jumped a first-pitch slider from reliever Brad Keller in the sixth inning and whacked it 398 feet over that same wall. He’s got 12 homers on the season.
“I’m seeing the ball the same, I’m just not missing those pitches,” Haase said. “I’ve really tried to shorten my swing a little bit. Still trying to be powerful but in a shorter window. I’m not trying to do too much. I’m very thankful to get rewarded for hitting some balls hard.”
Last but not least, Haase dropped a two-out, RBI double down the right-field line in the eighth — three hits, three RBIs. In his last three games he’s produced three doubles and three home runs.
“We’ve seen him get hot before like this,” Hinch said. “And when he does, there’s a lot of damage that comes with it.”
Jeimer Candelario, serving as the designated hitter, had himself a night, as well. In that same second inning, after Spencer Torkelson and Kerry Carpenter singled, he unloaded on anther 2-0 fastball from Lynch, hitting it 445 feet inside the foul pole in left.
He wasn’t done. He had three hits and finished a triple shy of a cycle. He singled and scored in a two-run fourth and doubled in the fifth.
“I wasn’t thinking about that (the cycle),” Candelario said. “When you think about it, then it’s not going to happen. I just wanted to keep smashing the ball and hitting on the barrel.
“Like I said, hitting is contagious.”
Torkelson had three hits, as well. Riley Greene doubled and singled, scoring a run and knocking in a run.
The Tigers produced 17 hits.
“It’s always a great vibe when you win,” Candelario said. “That’s what we got right now. We’re creating winners here. We want to win, bro. We’re doing everything we can to win ballgames.”