Tigers fight back, but once again can’t overcome Orioles

Detroit News

Detroit — Staying in the fight. Competing until the last out. These have been hallmarks of AJ Hinch-managed teams in Detroit.

Winning those games, though, remains a bit elusive.

They played their seventh and final game of the season against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday. They stayed in the fight, they battled back from a four-run deficit, and for the sixth time against them, they came up short, losing 5-3 at Comerica Park.

BOX SCORE: Orioles 5, Tigers 3

Four of the six losses to the Orioles have been by two runs or less.

“Definitely a little frustrating, I’m not going to lie,” right fielder Matt Vierling said. “But we’re in almost every game we play. We are right there. At some point some balls are going to fall and other things will go our way. If anything, this shows a lot about our team. We’re fighting. We’re not giving in.”

The Tigers were down 4-0 and being effectively subdued for four innings by Orioles’ right-hander Kyle Bradish, who was mixing sliders, changeups and curveballs off a 94-mph four-seam fastball. They finally cracked the code in the fifth.

Jake Rogers, with Vierling on first base (single), jumped a 1-0 sinker and sent it 410 feet into the seats in left field. It was his third home run of the season.

After Andy Ibanez flew out to the wall in right field and Zach McKinstry flew out to the wall in right-center, Riley Greene singled and scored on a laser double to the gap in left-center by Javier Báez — 4-3.

Bradish hit Spencer Torkelson to put two on with two out and that started the wheels turning in both dugouts.

With left-handed hitters Nick Maton and Akil Baddoo coming up, Orioles’ manager Brandon Hyde summoned lefty Cionel Perez. It left Tigers’ manager AJ Hinch with a dilemma.

Right-handed hitter Eric Haase had a bat in his hand and was ready to pinch-hit. But was that the right time to play that card?

“It’s the fifth inning, pretty early,” Hinch said. “(Hyde) could trap me into a ton of right-handed at-bats in a row if I hit there. And then later were are seeing (right-handed reliever Yenniel) Cano against Báez and Tork and Haase. Later in the game it felt better to have a weapon.”

Plus, Perez features a hard fastball and hard breaking ball. Maton handles velocity well, from righties and lefties. This time, though, Maton got beat, striking out to end the inning.

Stacking left-handed or right-handed hitters in the batting order has been a productive strategy for Hinch, often forcing opposing managers to pick their poison with righty-lefty matchups. It worked against him in the fifth, but the situation came around again in the eighth inning with the Tigers still down by a run.

This time Hinch used his right-handed cards. And still the Tigers came up empty.

With a runner on first base and nobody out, Hyde brought in lefty Danny Coulombe to face Maton. That triggered a pocket of three right-handed hitters. Seemingly advantage Tigers.

First Haase pinch-hit for Maton. Coulombe struck him out.

Zack Short was next, batting for Baddoo. He blooped a single to left, moving the tying run to second.

Vierling, who came in hitting .455 in his last seven games, was called out by home plate umpire Doug Eddings on a 3-2 sweeper that, according to replays and Statcast’s strike zone box, landed off the plate inside.

“I thought it was in,” said Vierling, choosing his words carefully. “Me, as a hitter, I thought it was in. I didn’t really think I could do much with it. I read it as a ball.”

With two outs, Hyde brought in right-hander Yennier Cano. He struck out Rogers.

Best-laid plans…

“When it doesn’t work out, it’s obviously frustrating,” Hinch said. “A lot of guys got at-bats on the right-hand side. It’s complicated. I don’t want to tell you the entire strategy. But we got another opportunity and it was right there for us.”

The Tigers, off on Monday, are 10-17 with 14 of those losses against teams from the American League East.

Tigers’ starter Spencer Turnbull continues to search for some consistency coming back from Tommy John surgery. Nothing is coming easy for him right now.

“He’s still stagnant whether it’s rhythm or timing or delivery,” Hinch said. “Something is just a little off. These are some super labor-intensive innings he’s getting through…There wasn’t that implosion, that’s the positive sign.”

Turnbull needed 83 pitches to get through four innings, 32 in the second after a mostly-efficient first. He ended up allowing three runs, two earned.

“I thought my stuff was really good in the first inning,” he said, referencing that his fastball hit 96 mph and he threw a couple of firm, snapping sliders. “I felt pretty good in the second, too, but I got crushed by that long inning. That took a little bit out of me. I felt like I battled after that and gave us a chance.

“But definitely frustrated with the results.”

In a way, Turnbull’s progression mirrors the team’s. The process is good. The want-to and work ethic is good. The battle level is high. But the results continue to lag.

“The encouragement is that I think we’re putting together better games,” Hinch said. “I think we’re playing better baseball and giving ourselves a chance … We haven’t figured out the Orioles but I take great pride that the guys are going to keep fighting. But we have a lot of work to do.”


Twitter: @cmccosky

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