Dunedin, Florida – To the rescue came Tyler Alexander.
On a sultry night at TD Ballpark when Tigers pitchers walked 12 batters – and when the Blue Jays left 19 men on base in a game in which they somehow scored but a single run – the Tigers could thank Alexander for bringing sanity to a zany Grapefruit League game the Tigers supposedly won, 4-1.
Alexander countered all the later nonsense, lowlighted by Tigers relievers walking 10 Jays hitters in the final four innings, with three innings of perfect, nine-up, nine-down artistry spanning 34 pitches.
It was a Beauty and the Beast performance on the Grapefruit League stage.
“Those are young kids,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said afterward, putting as humane a touch as possible on the evening’s gore, which was made possible by the fact Toronto got only three hits, all singles.
“Those are generally pretty good strike-throwers. This was an avalanche that was hard to overcome.”
A medical examiner’s report on Saturday’s late-innings carnage revealed this:
Jace Fry, who is not a kid and who wasn’t part of Hinch’s allusion, walked three batters in a scoreless sixth inning.
Miguel Del Pozo, another Tigers lefty, had a nearly spotless seventh but still walked one Jays hitter.
Yaha Chentouf, who was a dandy reliever last season at Double A Erie, actually struck out George Springer and had two outs in the eighth before he walked three straight batters. He was excused in favor of Dario Gardea, who got the eighth’s last out (thanks to fill-in shortstop making a back-to-the-infield, sliding catch on a pop to short left-center field).
Gardea returned for the ninth and immediately walked three Jays, tucking within his spree a pair of pitches so wild they nearly ended up in Clearwater.
BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, Blue Jays 2
He gave way to first-responder RJ Petit, who walked one more batter to make it an even dozen on the night. He finally got the final, merciful ground-out that sent everyone home.
All of this drama after Alexander had begun the night so serenely. In his three-inning, 34-pitch virtuoso, Alexander got only two swings and misses.
But as tends to be the case with him and a fastball that cruises just under 90 mph, the average exit velocity on balls the Jays hit Saturday was 83.2.
Soft contact, as they say, against a left-handed surgeon.
“Tyler was very good,” Hinch said. “When he’s at his best he zeroes pitches that are just off the barrel. He gets guys who don’t take comfortable swings, because he can cut it, he can move it, change pace a little bit. His ball has a little vertical to it, so he makes ’em make barrel contact to beat him.
“Nine up, nine down, against that lineup this time in spring is pretty impressive.”
Alexander, of course, figures to be a rotation-to-bullpen linchpin who can give you three innings or fewer of just what he showed Saturday.
“If my fastball’s 89, normally they’ll put it in play,” said Alexander, whose heater Saturday topped out at 89.6 and averaged 88.6. “So, weak contact is what I’m going for.”
Also pleasing is the new slider grip he brought to camp this season, a seam-adjustment that’s working well and putting some descent on a slider Alexander thought was too “sweepy.”
“At the end of the day I’m feeling good out there,” he said. “It’s like I’m mindless out there, not thinking, not trying to throw hard, not trying to make things move.
“I just do it.”
Another counter to Saturday’s strike-zone mayhem was Jason Foley, he of the 97-mph sinker.
Foley walked one and allowed a couple of infield singles. But he torched two batters with his usual witch’s brew of burrowing hard stuff.
“His arm-strength is coming pretty strong,” Hinch said of a right-handed fireman who could become invaluable in a bullpen with some early issues.
“His fastball velocity will kind of bring his slider with it. So, the better he can throw his fastball at 96, 97, the better his slider becomes, because he can kind of strip it and rip it.
“I do think when he throws strike-one, when he can dot pitches down in, and down and away, he makes it tough on a hitter.
“Pretty electric stuff.”
Early runs hold up
The Tigers got their four runs in the third.
An error (on Ryan Kreidler’s grounder) and a hit batter (Zack Short) invited Jake Rogers to hammer a double against the right-center-field fence.
Parker Meadows, who might not be at Triple A Toledo much past the summer solstice, followed with a long homer into the right-field terrace. He thus tied Nick Maton for the team lead in Grapefruit League homers with five.
Rogers had one more at-bat and smoked a single to right field. He now is batting .303 on the spring, with three homers and a 1.010 OPS.
“My timing’s been good all spring,” Rogers said. “My swing feels good.
“So, I’m ready to go.”
Meadows has had a lovely March but isn’t quite ready for prime-time duty in Detroit. The Tigers’ decision-makers, which include Hinch, are in accord there. But the talent is just as clear.
“It seems like games are slowing down for him a little bit,” Hinch said. “Obviously, he can do a lot of damage.
“There’s still some swing-and-miss there. He’s got plenty to work on. But he’s an exciting young player who teaches us every day we need to be patient with young players and not expect them to be perfect right out of the gate.”
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.