LAKELAND, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers clipped the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-7, on Wednesday at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, on Nick Maton’s walk-off home run.
The Tigers are now 2-3 in Grapefruit League play.
Maton hit his second home run of the spring, a 401-foot solo shot to right-center field on the first pitch — an elevated 96 mph fastball from Osvaldo Bido — with one out in the ninth. Maton mashing a fastball is no surprise, as we wrote after his acquisition from the Philadelphia Phillies in January.
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A four-run first inning set the tone for the offense. The Tigers sent seven batters to the plate, and each of their six balls in play were on pitches near the middle of the strike zone from Pirates right-hander Johan Oviedo.
Matt Vierling, who arrived with Maton in the Gregory Soto trade, hit a leadoff single.
Jonathan Schoop then benefitted from the sun when he hit a towering fly ball to the warning track. Left fielder Matt Gorski lost the ball in the sky, and when it bounced over the wall, the Tigers had two runners in scoring position. Riley Greene capitalized with a first-pitch opposite-field single. He hit the ball with a 103.7 mph exit velocity and drove in two runs for a 2-0 lead.
Miguel Cabrera hit the first pitch he saw with a 106.7 mph exit velocity for a double to deep center field. For the first out, Kerry Carpenter scored Greene on a sacrifice fly for a 3-0 margin.
Eric Haase drilled an RBI single, but was thrown out at second base trying to stretch it to a double. Spencer Torkelson struck out looking to end the inning.
Ahead 7-4, the Tigers turned to righty Rony García in the eighth inning. He squandered the lead by allowing a mammoth three-run home run to Travis Swaggerty on a hanging curveball.
García was pulled after 28 pitches and two outs. Left-hander Jake Higginbotham, elevated from minor league camp, replaced him and finished the eighth with two pitches.
Right-hander Kevin Castro pitched a scoreless ninth.
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Tigers right-hander Matt Manning allowed one run on three hits — without a walk — and one strikeout, throwing 16 of 22 pitches for strikes.
The bad news: His four-seam fastball, one of the better fastballs in baseball, averaged 90 mph, compared to 93.2 mph last season. The good news: It was his first start of spring training, and he filled up the strike zone.
The velocity on all Manning’s pitches was significantly down. He tossed 11 four-seamers, five curveballs, four changeups and two sliders. He struck out Ji Hwan Bae with a curveball in the first inning.
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A ground-rule double from Endy Rodriguez, thanks to Carpenter losing the ball in the sun, set up Gorski’s RBI single with two outs in the second inning.
Manning’s curveball looked like his most effective pitch.
At the plate
In the third inning, Cabrera — a 20-year MLB veteran — took too long to step into the batter’s box and received an automatic strike for a pitch clock violation. He ended up striking out.
In the fourth, Haase demolished a sinker at the top of the strike zone from left-handed reliever Caleb Smith for a solo home run. The ball was hit with a 106.9 mph exit velocity and traveled 426 feet to center field. His second homer this spring put the Tigers ahead 5-1.
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The Pirates got within one run, but Tyler Nevin — competing for a platoon role with Maton at third base — separated the gap with a 429-foot two-run home run in the seventh inning. He tagged a slider from left-handed reliever Daniel Zamora to left-center field for a 7-4 lead.
On the mound
Right-handed relievers Will Vest and Miguel Diaz cruised through the third and fourth innings.
Both pitchers were efficient — 11 pitches, nine strikes for Vest and 14 pitches, nine strikes for Diaz — while each racking up a pair of strikeouts. Vest recorded four swings and misses; Diaz got two.
Both are competing for spots in the Opening Day bullpen.
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Right-hander José Cisnero, returning from a neck injury, pitched the fifth inning. Malcom Nunez reached safely on a throwing error by Schoop — a regular second baseman who was playing third base — with two outs.
The next batter, Oneil Cruz, hammered a sinker at the bottom of the strike zone for a two-run home run, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 5-3. Cisnero finished with two strikeouts; his fastball averaged 95.4 mph and maxed out at 97.4 mph on his final pitch.
Right-hander Mason Englert, a Rule 5 draft pick, continued to impress in his pursuit of making the Opening Day roster with a perfect sixth inning, but the 23-year-old allowed three singles and one run in the seventh before avoiding further trouble. He threw 21 of 30 pitches for strikes.
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1. Nevin, 2. Vest, 3. Diaz.
Thursday (1:05 p.m.) vs. Baltimore Orioles in Lakeland.
Contact Evan Petzold at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.