Tigers blanked 4-0 by Rays, first shutout on Opening Day in 34 years

Detroit News

St. Petersburg, Fla. — The ball was slicing away from right fielder Manuel Margot toward the line. The Tigers’ offense, shackled for the first six innings by All-Star lefty Shane McClanahan, had two runners on and two outs. It was the top of the seventh and they trailed 3-0.

“We were one hit away from being right in it,” Spencer Torkelson said.

Ryan Kreidler’s slicing drive looked to be that hit. Two runs were going to score and Kreidler most likely was going to be on third base representing the tying run.

Except Margot made a spectacular diving catch to end the inning and, for intents and purposes, the game.

“It was a game-changing play but I’ve never been in this building when they haven’t played elite defense,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said after the Tampa Bay Rays opened their 25th season in the big leagues with a 4-0 win Thursday before a sellout crowd of, fittingly, 25,025 at Tropicana Field.

“It’s one of their calling cards,” Hinch continued. “They make great plays. They finish plays, which is key. That was a big moment. We needed to get something to happen to get back in the game.”

BOX SCORE: Rays 4, Tigers 0

The Tigers made a lot of encouraging strides offensively this spring. They were second among the 15 teams in Florida in both homers and runs scored. But they weren’t facing the caliber of pitching they faced Thursday.

McClanahan was mixing hard changeups and hard sliders and a curveball off 96-97 mph fastballs. He allowed four hits with six strikeouts.

“His stuff is his stuff,” said Torkelson, who grounded out twice against McClanahan. “We had a pretty good game plan against him. We made him work. But he has a good arm and he didn’t miss in the heart of the plate very often. That’s what great pitchers do. You tip your cap to him today but get after them on Saturday.”

The Tigers had his pitch count over 80 in the sixth inning and had runners on against him in each of the first four innings.

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“I thought we had good at-bats up and down the lineup and we made him work a little bit,” catcher Eric Haase said. “We had some decent traffic but didn’t capitalize on a few things early. You have to get to those guys early. Once they settle in, it’s tough.”

The Rays’ bullpen finished the job, with Colin Poche, Jason Adam and Pete Fairbanks each pitching a scoreless inning. It was the first time the Tigers were shut out on Opening Day since 1989.

Former Ray Austin Meadows got three of the Tigers’ six hits, with two singles and a double.

But as Hinch said afterward, they had no margin for error against McClanahan, which is something Tigers’ starter Eduardo Rodriguez can vouch for. In his estimation, he made two mistakes in his 5.1 innings and they both led to runs.

The first was a 1-1 cutter he left over the heart of the plate to the Rays’ No. 9 hitter Jose Siri. That ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 110 mph and flew on a line into the left-field seats.

“I thought Eduardo pitched his tail off,” Haase said. “He kept them off-balance and got a lot of weak contact.”

Through five innings Rodriguez allowed just two other base runners (a walk and a single) with five strikeouts. Going into the sixth, he’d dispatched nine straight Rays hitters, including Siri who he punched out with a cutter.

“It was the purpose of it,” said Rodriguez, explaining the difference between the two cutters to Siri. “The one he hit was supposed to be inside, for a chase or a foul ball. The one I struck him out on was a back-door cutter. That was the difference.”

He walked the leadoff batter, Yandy Diaz, in the sixth and that’s where the trouble started. He then gave up a one-out single to former Tiger Isaac Paredes, which is the second pitch he regretted. He was at 88 pitches and Hinch pulled him in favor of right-handed ground-ball inducer Jason Foley.

Foley got ground balls, but two of them found holes. Randy Arozarena hit one hard up the middle (93 mph exit velocity) that was just out of second baseman Jonathan Schoop’s reach — RBI single.

Pinch-hitter Luke Raley, a dead pull hitter, rolled one up the middle. Schoop was pulled toward first base and couldn’t get to that one either — 3-0 Rays, all three runs on Rodriguez’s tab.

More: Meet the 2023 Detroit Tigers

One of the rules changes for 2023 is the elimination of the defensive over-shifts. Chances are high that both of those ground balls would have been caught for outs under last year’s rules.

“To me it all started with not controlling the strike zone in a really critical part as they rolled their lineup over,” Hinch said. “The two-strike hit by Paredes, a couple of seeing-eye base hits, but they put the ball in play and they walked. They put pressure on Eduardo and then they put pressure on our bullpen after that.”

In the fourth inning, Torkelson ripped a ground ball up the middle that second baseman Brandon Lowe caught two steps on the shortstop side of second base. It looked to the naked eye like he was positioned illegally, something overhead camera angles showed he was not.

“I would’ve challenged it if we thought he was (in a shift),” Hinch said. “That’s going to be one of the hardest plays to get overturned. There’s a lot of gray area and there’s only one camera they’re going to rely on to look at it. We looked at the TV and the overhead. He was fine.”

Rule 5 rookie Mason Englert, who was pitching in High-A at this time last season, made his big-league debut in the eighth inning. He allowed a solo home run to the first batter he faced, Wander Franco, before retiring the side.

“You only get one first day and that’s what I told him after,” Hinch said. “I hope it doesn’t change his proud feeling of getting to the big leagues. He can take away the fact that he made it. He’s one of very few people in the world who have pitched at this level.”


Twitter: @cmccosky

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