Detroit — In the end, it was another loss for the Tigers.
The Chicago White Sox scored twice off Tigers closer Gregory Soto in the top of the 11th inning and evened the three-game series with a 4-3 win at Comerica Park Saturday night.
Soto couldn’t field a bunt by Elvis Andrus. Yoan Moncada ripped an RBI single and then a clean double-steal set up a sacrifice fly by Eloy Jimenez.
“It’s just small things that are big plays in close games, especially in extra innings,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said.
For a team like the Tigers, though, 35 games under .500 and long out of contention, it’s less about the loss and more about seeing evidence of growth, especially from players who are likely to be part of the foundation going into next year.
From that standpoint, the performances of lefty starter Eduardo Rodriguez and outfielder Akil Baddoo represent wins for the Tigers.
“It’s a difference-maker and we are a completely different team when we can add that dimension,” Hinch said of Baddoo. “Just putting pressure on the opponent. Giving us more scoring opportunities. If you can give yourself extra opportunities by using your legs, it’s a ton different.”
Baddoo won a 10-pitch at-bat against White Sox rookie starter Davis Martin and ripped a triple. In the bottom of the eighth he manufactured the tying run with his wheels.
He worked a one-out walk from reliever Kendall Graveman and then stole second base.
Riley Greene then hit a ground ball to the left side of the infield. Baddoo rounded third thinking the ball was going through. Shortstop Andrus made a diving stop and had plenty of time to throw out Baddoo.
Except Andrus’ throw was up the line. Single and RBI for Greene, tie ballgame heading to the ninth inning.
“I had a pretty good idea where Andrus was playing, so I kind of got a good jump on it,” Baddoo said. “I thought it was going through, actually. But Santi (third-base coach Ramon Santiago) said he was waiting for it to go through. He gave me the stop sign, but by then it was too late so I just kept going and took my chances.”
Hinch joked that sometimes it was better to be lucky than good. But Baddoo’s instincts, once he blew through the stop sign, were spot-on.
“It was kind of instinct and also just knowing where I’m at,” Baddoo said. “By then, if he thought I was going to go back, he was probably going to throw to third, so my chances are better off just going home and being safe there.
“It ended up working out.”
It would be a huge boost for the Tigers if Baddoo, who has had a rough sophomore season, a good chunk of which was spent back at Triple-A Toledo, can regain solid footing going into the offseason.
“His tempo is better, his aggressiveness is better, his body language is better,” Hinch said. “I like where he’s at physically in the box. There’s been some near misses but it’s a little bit more like what Akil is going to have to be to be impactful at this level — be a more well-rounded player, be a pest, be effective on the bases.”
As for Rodriguez, he gave the Tigers a needed reminder of the pitcher they expected when they signed him for $77 million.
He breezed into the seventh inning Saturday. He’d allowed just two hits, none since the second inning. He had set down 16 straight hitters, had a 1-0 lead and a fast 0-2 count on Jimenez. Then he drilled him with an misfired sinker.
Working from the stretch for the first time in four-plus innings, Rodriguez lost his rhythm and walked Andrew Vaughn and Yasmani Grandal. Nine of the last 10 pitches he threw were balls.
“I don’t think it was that (working out of the stretch,” Rodriguez said. “It just felt like I lost my command after that and I paid for it. That’s the way this game is.”
Just that fast, his night was over. And one batter later — a two-run single by AJ Pollock off reliever Jason Foley — the White Sox had the lead.
The last three hitters aside, though, this was a significant start for Rodriguez.
The Tigers lefty came in having been tagged for 13 earned runs and 22 hits in his last three starts covering 16 innings.
“I just turn the page every time I have a bad start,” he said. “I just turn the page. That’s the only way I can get better, start by start. The last couple of starts my fastball command wasn’t there and I wasn’t able to command my pitches the right way. Today I was able to pitch the way I want to pitch.”
He’d all but scrapped his slider. And his change-up, one of his prime assets, had been failing him. And the White Sox, never an easy lineup to navigate for any pitcher, added several degrees of difficulty to the challenge by stacking nine right-handed hitters against him — a strategy that would all but force him to use those two wonky pitches, the slider and change-up.
Rodriguez established his change-up right out of the gate, striking out leadoff hitter Andrus with a beauty and then getting a rollover ground out from Jose Abreu.
When Abreu came back up in the fourth inning, Rodriguez showed something different — he punched him out with a 1-2 slider.
Rodriguez only threw three sliders but got swings and misses on two of them. He got five whiffs on 10 swings at his change-up. With the White Sox having to be mindful of those pitches, his sinker, cutter and four-seam mix became more effective.
“It’s been the same,” he said of his change-up. “Sometimes it’s the way it was tonight and sometimes it’s straight. But I was able to locate my fastball down and away and that makes them chase the change-up.
“That’s what I was looking for and that’s what was working today.”
It’s what the Tigers have been looking for, too — a quality start from their ace of staff against a quality lineup.