BALTIMORE — The Detroit Tigers, one of the hottest teams in baseball, nearly carried a six-game winning streak into their two-city, six-game road trip against the Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers.
The winning streak, though, stopped at five games in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians at Comerica Park. The Tigers, despite late-inning home runs from Spencer Torkelson and Zach McKinstry, stranded two runners in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“We’re playing better,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said after Wednesday’s loss. “We’re playing clean baseball. That’s important for us to win today’s game. … We walked guys today, which is the story of the game. We put ourselves in a tough position. Other than that, our competitiveness has certainly increased in the last few games.”
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The winning, and the clean product on the field, started in Toronto with a 3-1 victory against the Blue Jays on April 13, when Javier Báez was benched for mental mistakes before the third inning.
The benching sent a message to the entire team.
A winning streak evolved thanks to back-to-back walk-off wins over the San Francisco Giants on Friday and Saturday at Comerica Park. The series finale was postponed Sunday (after a five-hour delay) due to inclement weather. It has been rescheduled for 1:10 p.m. July 24.
Another postponement occurred Monday, then the Tigers won back-to-back games in Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Guardians.
“Vibes are super high,” Riley Greene said Sunday. “We’re playing clean baseball. We just got to keep it going. That’s really the end goal, just to build off the momentum, bring it into the next day, keep the energy high and grind.”
The Tigers played 22 innings Friday and Saturday against the Giants. Nick Maton launched a walk-off home run in Friday’s 7-5 win, while Miguel Cabrera contributed a pinch-hit walk-off single in Saturday’s 7-6 win.
“Bodies aren’t feeling good around here, I can tell you that,” Greene continued, speaking in front of his locker in the clubhouse Sunday. “It’s just kinda who’s mentally stronger, who wants it more?”
During the six-game stretch, the Tigers hit .254 (eighth in MLB) with a .311 on-base percentage (17th) and .413 slugging percentage (ninth). They ranked 23rd with a 7.2% walk rate and 10th with a 21.6% strikeout rate. That means the Tigers’ offense struggled to draw walks but limited strikeouts.
The bullpen was the biggest highlight with an MLB-leading 1.08 ERA across 25 innings in the six-game stretch. The relievers, despite a lack of strikeouts, refused to give away free passes; seven of 93 batters reached safely from walks. Several high-leverage relievers, such as Alex Lange and José Cisnero, bounced back from poor outings, while Jason Foley continued a strong start to the season.
Most importantly, the Tigers showed resiliency in late-game situations through game-winning hits from Nick Maton, Miguel Cabrera and Kerry Carpenter. Even in Wednesday’s loss, the Tigers’ first two batters — Carpenter (single) and Akil Baddoo (single) — reached safely against Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase in the ninth inning.
The next three batters — Torkelson, Tyler Nevin and Eric Haase — were retired to end the game, but all three players put the ball in play. They didn’t give away any outs, and if Nevin’s shallow fly ball (ending an 11-pitch battle) would have dropped in, the Tigers would have extended the winning streak to six games.
But the Tigers (7-10 record) learned something about themselves over the past week and will try to carry the momentum in a pair of three-game series against the Orioles (11-7) and Brewers (14-5).
“A lot of confidence,” Torkelson said Wednesday, after going 2-for-3 with one walk, one double, one home run. “I think this team has a lot of swag and a lot of really good players. I think it’s clicking, and I really like where we’re at.”
No timeline for Austin Meadows yet
The Tigers placed outfielder Austin Meadows on the 10-day injured list on April 12, meaning he would be eligible to return Saturday. He has been around Comerica Park for workouts and games throughout the past week but didn’t join the Tigers for the six-game road trip.
Hinch said the Tigers don’t plan to transfer Meadows to the 60-day injured list.
Still, it’s unclear when he could return to games.
“We’ve given him space,” Hinch said. “We’ve also given him support. We continue to wait for a definitive program on what activity level he’s going to be able to do. We’re in touch with him and his mental group, our medical group, and we continue to support him. We’ll continue to do so until, hopefully, he feels better enough to get back in the rhythm of the game and get back more active.”
Meadows played in six of the Tigers’ first seven games this season, hitting .238 with zero walks and three strikeouts across 21 plate appearances. He also missed games for mental health struggles last season.
The 27-year-old has completed some baseball activities in his workouts.
“He’s done a little bit of stuff, not a lot,” Hinch said. “Nothing that would make him able to play at the drop of a hat. There’s going to be a process in place, and we haven’t come to any conclusions yet.”
Prospect starts rehab assignment
Catcher Dillon Dingler, who underwent a right knee meniscectomy (the removal of a torn meniscus) in mid-March, has been assigned to Low-A Lakeland to begin a rehab assignment.
The 24-year-old, who hasn’t played above Double-A Erie, was selected No. 38 overall by the Tigers in the 2020 draft. He hit .238 with 14 home runs, 45 walks and 143 strikeouts in 107 games for the SeaWolves last season.
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Double-A Erie third baseman Colt Keith went 3-for-3 with two walks in Thursday’s loss. The 21-year-old is hitting .304 with one home run, six walks and nine strikeouts in 11 games for the SeaWolves.
Right-hander Wilmer Flores has a 14.04 ERA with eight walks and 10 strikeouts in 8⅓ innings across three starts for Double-A Erie. Righty Ty Madden, also pitching for the SeaWolves, has a 1.80 ERA with four walks and 13 strikeouts in five innings across two starts.
Third baseman Justyn-Henry Malloy is dominating the competition in Triple-A Toledo, hitting .379 with two homers, 19 walks and 14 strikeouts in 17 games. The 23-year-old has an insane .544 on-base percentage.
Right-hander Reese Olson, however, isn’t dominating the Triple-A level, with a 15.83 ERA, seven walks and 15 strikeouts in 9⅔ innings across four starts. The 23-year-old struggles to get swings and misses inside the strike zone with his fastball.
Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will start Sunday against the Orioles, while lefty Matthew Boyd will start Monday against the Brewers. Both pitchers started Tuesday in the doubleheader against the Guardians.
Right-hander Michael Lorenzen started Friday against the Orioles. Lefty Joey Wentz is scheduled to start Saturday.