E-Rod’s day: 10 K’s, 0 walks, 1 hat-tip to Vierling

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — This is what the Tigers were hoping for when they signed Eduardo Rodriguez in November 2021. It took a long time to get here, but it made for quick work on Tuesday.

“Games like today are what we hope for every single time,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said after Rodriguez’s eight-inning gem fueled a 1-0 win and a doubleheader sweep of the Guardians and extended Detroit’s winning streak to five games. “We don’t expect him to be perfect, but … the fact that he can go out and pitch on a mission, wanting to do well, it’s just his competitive nature. It’s not trying to make up for lost time. To me, it’s just him.”

As Cleveland hitters stepped into the box on a chilly afternoon at Comerica Park, Rodriguez was barely giving them time to settle in before pounding the strike zone. Fastballs up, sinkers and changeups down, cutters all over and some sliders mixed in.

“He can really give guys fits,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “His fastball is really sneaky with a breaking ball and changeup.”

After the Tigers’ 4-3 walk-off victory in Game 1, Rodriguez was the last person the Guardians wanted to see — until they finally blistered a ball against him, only to see Matt Vierling racing toward the right-field wall.

“I honestly thought it was going to be close,” catcher Jake Rogers said of Josh Naylor’s fifth-inning drive to right. “I don’t think he got all of it.”

He was more optimistic than his pitcher.

“As soon as he hit it, I thought, ‘This ball is out,’” Rodriguez said. “And it was going out.”

“Glad I could take advantage of it,” Vierling said. “I never played here before, so I don’t know what it was like, but it was nice to be able to go up and have a shot at it.”

Vierling was positioned perfectly for the play, going straight back to the fence as the line drive carried.

“I was back; I felt like I had a good jump and got a pretty good read on it,” he said. “I kind of went into it knowing I was going to get smoked by it.”

Said Rogers: “I saw Vierling running back, and then I saw the choppy steps coming, and I was like, ‘Oh, he might have a chance.’ Incredible play. Game saver.”

Rodriguez retired 11 of 13 batters before that play, allowing only a pair of ground-ball singles. He likewise retired 11 of the 13 batters he faced after that play, allowing leadoff singles in the seventh and eighth innings.

Naylor’s drive stayed in. Riley Greene’s opposite-field fly off Guardians starter Peyton Battenfield carried out. That was the game.

No Guardian put a ball in play against Rodriguez harder than 99 mph; even Naylor’s drive was at 96 mph. Just six balls hit in play against Rodriguez had a hit probability better than 30 percent, and one was Andrés Giménez’s sacrifice bunt following Oscar Gonzalez’s eighth-inning single.

None of those balls in play came from All-Star third baseman José Ramírez. He entered Tuesday 5-for-13 with two home runs off Rodriguez, but he struck out swinging three times: on an elevated sinker in the first inning, a slider down and away in the fourth and a high cutter on the outside corner in the seventh. When Ramirez fanned against Jason Foley in the ninth, ending the game and handing Foley his first career save, he had the first four-strikeout game of his Major League career.

“You may go the rest of your career covering sports and never see that again,” Hinch said.

Rodriguez’s performance was almost as rare. Not since Max Scherzer in 2012 had a Detroit pitcher tossed eight scoreless innings with no walks and double-digit strikeouts. The only other Tiger to do it was “Wild Bill” Donovan against the St. Louis Browns in 1908.

At one hour, 50 minutes, Detroit hadn’t played a shorter nine-inning contest since another game against Cleveland, Armando Galarraga’s bid for perfection in 2010. That one, of course, would have been quicker but for the ending. The Tigers will take this one.

“That’s picture-perfect for what we want from our pitchers,” Hinch said.

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