St. Petersburg, Fla. — Jake Rogers, packing up his bags after the Tigers got swept out of Tropicana Field on Sunday, losing the finale of the season-opening series against the Rays, 5-1, was asked what this young team can take out of such a tough start.
“That we hate to lose,” he said. “That we want to win. We’re going to go into Houston a little hungry trying to get some wins under our belt.”
The Tigers start the season 0-3 for the first time since 2018, managing a paltry three runs the entire series. For all the new players, new coaching, new systems and new approaches, the offense , through the first three games at least, seems as stuck and stalled as it ever was last season.
“(The Rays) dominated the strike zone as they always do,” manager AJ Hinch said. “That leads to making hitters uncomfortable and dictating contact. Today was a lack of contact.”
“He’s pretty deceptive,” said Tigers’ right fielder Matt Vierling, who was called out on strikes twice, both times looking at 91-mph fastballs from Springs. “I think the thing for a lot of us was, that ball that looked low ended up not being low. That was an adjustment we had to make. And on top of that, he had his changeup working, and that’s a really good pitch for him.”
Rogers agreed: “He had good stuff, good (vertical) ride on the fastball. When he was at the bottom of the zone it looked low but he was sticking it to us. His changeup was good, though I thought I saw it really well. He’s got good stuff.”
The Tigers were caught in between those pitches the entire outing. He got 14 called strikes (including five called third strikes) with the fastball and nine swinging strikes with changeups.
“We weren’t covering either pitch and that’s a bad sign against a guy like Springs,” Hinch said. “He had a dominant spring with a lot of punch-outs (14 scoreless innings with 24 strikeouts). You have to cover one or the other. But it’s what he does. He gets leverage, he beats you to two strikes and then he beats you with two strikes. He had an incredible day.”
The Tigers took 20 called strikes overall and whiffed 13 times against Springs. The only runner who reached base against him was Nick Maton who walked in the second inning. But he was at 81 pitches after six innings and Rays manager Kevin Cash decided that was enough.
Riley Greene, the first batter that lefty reliever Colin Poche faced in the seventh, beat out an infield single to get the Tigers’ off the schneid.
“I mean, I smelled it,” Greene said. “When you smell a hit you’re going to turn on the burners.”
Greene’s sprint speed according to Statcast was 29.7 feet per second. Anything 30 feet per second or better is considered elite.
The Tigers’ run came in the ninth inning on Rogers’ solo home run off lefty reliever Jalen Beeks.
“We’ve got to do whatever we can to put the ball in play and make something happen,” Greene said. “I don’t think we’re pressing. It’s the first series of the year. We’re going to reset. We’re going to go to Houston, work hard and play as hard as we can.”
The Tigers’ first two runs in the series were off right-handed pitchers Zach Eflin and Kevin Kelly. Rogers’ home run off Beeks was their only run in 16 innings against left-handed pitchers.
“It is what is it,” Vierling said. “There are some adjustments we’re making. Obviously, this isn’t the start we wanted to get off to. But better to figure this out now than for this to happen later in the year.”
The impotent offense dampened a strong outing by Tigers’ lefty starter Joey Wentz. Going into the sixth inning, the only mar on his ledger was a solo home run by Randy Arozarena, who clubbed a 93-mph fastball located down in the zone 436 feet into the seats in left-center.
“I felt like I executed some pitches and I thought I competed well,” Wentz said. “Unfortunately Arozarena hit that bomb and I gave up two more after that. But I felt like I did some good stuff.”
He did. He effectively mixed all four of his pitches — fastballs, cutters, changeups and curveballs — and got through five innings in an economical 57 pitches. The Tigers knew the Rays hitters would be aggressive and attack early in counts and Wentz was able to exploit that, particularly in the middle innings.
Even Arozarena’s home run wasn’t a horribly located pitch.
“We wanted to go down and away and I didn’t think he missed by much,” Rogers said. “He just ambushed a heater. He was looking for a heater and he got one. He did his job. But I’m really proud of Joey today. We were cruising pretty good there.”
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With one out in the sixth, though, Wentz gave up a double to Wander Franco and an RBI single to former Tiger Isaac Paredes.
Right-hander Jason Foley replaced Wentz and the Rays tacked on two more runs. Foley hit and walked the first two batters he faced and then gave up a two-out, two-run single to Jose Siri.
Franco had quite a series, going 7 for 11 with a home run and four RBIs.
“Just a bad weekend,” Hinch said. “We’ve got to get to a new challenge. We’ll get on the plane and get to Houston, another really good team. We’ve got to play a lot better in a lot of areas if we want to play competitively against them.”