Detroit Tigers fall short against Toronto Blue Jays, 6-4, despite late rally from reserves

Detroit Free Press

DUNEDIN, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers lost to the Toronto Blue Jays, 6-4, on Tuesday at TD Ballpark.

The Tigers dropped to 1-3 in Grapefruit League play.

What happened

Although the Tigers scored first, the Blue Jays rattled off four runs through the fourth inning to take a three-run advantage. Two runs were scored against left-hander Joey Wentz and one run each came against right-handed relievers Matt Wisler and Jason Foley.

The top four batters in the Blue Jays’ lineup — George Springer, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Matt Chapman — finished 2-for-7 with four walks and two strikeouts. All four of them drew a walk.

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The Tigers scored three runs in the eighth inning off left-hander Paul Fry, a 30-year-old who was born in Pontiac and attended St. Clair Community College. Fry has pitched in 118 MLB games across his five-year career.

A fielding error and a hit-by-pitch sparked the Tigers’ rally. Parker Meadows (double), Brendon Davis (groundout) and Andrew Navigato (single) drove in the three runs, cutting the deficit to 6-4. Right-hander Troy Watson, replacing Fry, inherited the bases loaded and two outs.

But Gage Workman struck out swinging.

Outfielder Steele Walker, called up from minor-league camp, was hit in the hand with a pitch in the eighth inning.

“He left for X-rays,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “I’ll have an update tomorrow, but he was in a lot of pain.”

Starting off

Making his first start in spring training, Wentz allowed two runs on three hits and one walk with three strikeouts. He tossed 22 of 36 pitches for strikes and primarily focused on his curveball.

His four-seam fastball averaged 93.6 mph.

“I thought I did well when I was ahead (in counts) and did poor when I was behind,” Wentz said. “There are some positives to take away but also some negatives and things to work on.”

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The Blue Jays stole two bases against him in three attempts, both in the second inning. Cavan Biggio worked a one-out walk and swiped second base on Danny Jansen’s strikeout. He scored to tie the game, 1-1, when Kevin Kiermaier doubled off Wentz’s fastball.

Santiago Espinal picked up an RBI single to put the Blue Jays ahead 2-1.

“A walk always leads to something,” Hinch said. “They were pretty active on the bases, too. I don’t know if that took him out of his rhythm, but it’s easy to go back and circle the walk that led to falling behind hitters.”

After the single, Espinal swiped second and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Donny Sands. Wentz worked himself out of the jam by striking out Cam Eden on four pitches, finishing him with a curveball that painted the outside edge of the strike zone.

His cutter was his best pitch and accounted for three of his five whiffs.

At the plate

The Tigers scored in the first inning against Blue Jays right-hander Chris Bassitt.

Nick Maton worked a six-pitch leadoff walk, and Riley Greene — batting in the two-hole — laced a full-count sinker for a ground-ball single into right. Greene hit the ball with a 109.4 mph exit velocity. The next batter, Javier Báez, drilled a sacrifice fly to center for a 1-0 lead.

An opportunity to add to the total was spoiled by Biggio. The right fielder made an epic sliding catch in the corner to steal extra bases from Austin Meadows, then doubled up Greene retreating to first base.

“The patient approach,” Hinch said. “It started with controlling the strike zone. … That’s textbook for how to score early. If that combo ends up being at the top, which is very possible, that’s a good way to start.”

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The Tigers finished with eight hits, three walks and 10 strikeouts (including two in the ninth inning).

They went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

César Hernández — competing for one of the Tigers’ final roster spots — had the best offensive performance, going 2-for-3. He ripped a double to the right-field corner off Bassitt’s curveball in the second inning. Five innings later, he doubled to left against right-hander Jay Jackson.

On the mound

Following Wentz’s two innings, Wisler entered and received an automatic ball — a pitch clock violation — before throwing his first pitch. The veteran reliever struggled in his first outing of spring training, allowing one run on one hit and two walks.

He also balked.

Wisler threw nine of 20 pitches for strikes. His four sinkers averaged 89.1 mph, his three four-seam fastballs averaged 88.5 mph and his 13 sliders sat around 78 mph. By the end of spring, he wants his fastball to be in the 92-93 mph range and his slider to be in the 82-83 mph range.

“The takeaway is starting 1-0 on Springer because of a pitch violation,” Hinch said. “It took him 12 seconds to get his last (warmup) pitch off, so he started 1-0. It’ll give me something to go over in the meeting in the morning. No judgments coming out of these first outings, but certainly some things that we can address.”

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In the fifth inning, right-hander Alex Faedo made his first spring training appearance. He struck out Guerrero and walked Chapman before finishing the inning against Biggio and Jansen.

His fastball averaged 93.4 mph, while his slider generated two swings and misses.

Left-hander Adam Wolf pitched a scoreless sixth inning, but right-hander Angel De Jesus surrendered two runs on two hits in the seventh. Stevie Berman hammered a slider over the heart of the plate for a two-run home run to left field, putting the Blue Jays in front 6-1.

Righty Tyler Holton finished the game with a scoreless eighth.

Three stars

1. Hernández, 2. Maton, 3. Faedo.

Next up

Wednesday (1:05 p.m.) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates in Lakeland.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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