Three relievers in roster battle struggle in Detroit Tigers’ 9-5 loss to Tampa Bay Rays

Detroit Free Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 9-5, on Monday at Tropicana Field. The Tigers also lost to the Baltimore Orioles, 11-7, in their other split-squad game at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.

The Tigers are 10-9 in Grapefruit League play.

What happened

Spencer Torkelson continues to hit the ball hard in spring training.

With two outs and a runner on second, Torkelson drilled a breaking ball from right-hander Drew Rasmussen into left field. The ball bounced past left fielder Jordan Qsar for an RBI double and a 1-0 lead.

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“It’s mostly the pitches he’s picking to swing at,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s hit the ball really hard. He’s up in the league leaders in barrels, and he’s getting rewarded for it now more than he was earlier in camp. His presence in the box is very good. That’s what we wanted coming into camp. He’s demonstrating that.”

The 23-year-old, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick, also ripped a 93.6 mph fastball for a single to left field in the sixth inning before exiting the game. He collected his second hit off veteran righty reliever Heath Hembree.

Torkelson finished 2-for-3 with one strikeout and boosted his batting average to .250 through 11 games. The exit velocities on the two hits: 100.1 mph for the double and 102.6 mph for the single.

Other than Torkelson, the Tigers’ offense was quiet for most of Monday’s game against the Rays. Eric Haase, who played left field for the first time this spring, hit a single to start the fifth inning.

Andrew Knapp started at catcher and struck out three times.

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Starting off

The Tigers turned to their bullpen in both split-squad games with Eduardo Rodriguez pitching in the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday. Against the Rays, right-hander Miguel Díaz got the ball for the first inning.

He allowed the first two batters to reach safely and loaded the bases with one out. He escaped the jam by striking out back-to-back batters — Jose Siri and Josh Lowe — to keep the Rays off the scoreboard.

Díaz threw 19 of 31 pitches for strikes.

“Very symbolic about all our guys early,” Hinch said. “The message about controlling the strike zone is pretty evident today. We had seven walks in the first three innings. Díaz escaped, others didn’t.”

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The first three pitchers for the Tigers — Díaz, left-hander Tyler Holton and right-hander Kervin Castro — combined for eight outs and 117 pitches. Only 63 of those pitches, or 53.8% of them, went for strikes.

The Rays scored six runs against Holton, who allowed five hits and one walk, in the second inning and three runs against Castro, who allowed two hits and four walks, in the third inning.

Lefty Jace Fry cleaned up Castro’s mess by getting the final out.

The Tigers trailed 9-1 after the third inning.

At the plate

In the fifth inning, the Tigers scored two runs against left-handed prospect Mason Montgomery.

Last season, Montgomery struck out 171 batters in 124 innings and was named the Rays’ minor-league pitcher of the year. Still, the 22-year-old hasn’t thrown above the Double-A level.

Haase drilled a single off his elevated fastball to open the fifth.

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A two-out walk from Zack Short put two runners on the bases for Austin Meadows. The elder Meadows, whose brother started as the center fielder in the other split-squad game, received five consecutive down-and-away pitches from Montgomery.

The fifth pitch stayed in the strike zone. Meadows lined the fastball through the infield and into the gap in left-center field. Both runners scored, and the Tigers cut their deficit to 9-3.

Jonathan Davis and Donny Sands had RBI singles in the eighth, making it 9-5. The Tigers loaded the bases with two outs, but Gage Workman — promoted from minor-league camp — struck out swinging on a pitch outside of the strike zone.

On the mound

After Fry helped Castro in the third, he returned to the mound and completed a scoreless fourth inning. The best relief appearance, though, belonged to left-hander Chasen Shreve in the seventh.

The sent down all three batters, including two batters with strikeouts from his changeup, and threw 11 of 16 pitches for strikes. Shreve, a nine-year MLB veteran, has five strikeouts in his past two outings. He is looking more and more like a lock for the Opening Day roster.

“His stuff works,” Hinch said. “He’s been around. He’s very comfortable in his stuff, execution and calmness. He’s generally a good strike thrower and will get balls on the ground if he doesn’t miss bass. He’s that veteran guy that’s very reliable, and he’s demonstrated that this spring.”

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Left-hander Tyler Alexander pitched between Fry and Shreve. He primarily threw his changeup (to right-handed hitters) and his slider (to lefty hitters), while his fastball sat around 88 mph.

Alexander, despite the decrease in velocity, shoved two scoreless innings with zero walks and one strikeout.

Right-hander Aneurys Zabala, called up from minor-league camp, pitched the eighth. His fastball averaged 98 mph, helping him generate two strikeouts (four swings and misses), but his command was inconsistent.

Three stars

1. Torkelson; 2. Shreve; 3. Meadows.

Next up

Tuesday (1:05 p.m.) vs. Boston Red Sox in Lakeland.

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

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