Detroit – This game can be a kick in the pants. Even on a good day.
Tyler Nevin gave the Tigers some life, hitting a pinch-hit, three-run home run in a four-run sixth inning Saturday evening. It was his first career pinch-hit homer and it helped reduced a 6-0 deficit to 6-4.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, that’s how the game ended. And minutes after the Orioles secured the 6-4 win and a split of the doubleheader, Nevin was called into manager AJ Hinch’s office and told he’d been optioned back to Triple-A Toledo.
“I can’t argue with it being 2 for 21,” Nevin said. “I’m not going to pout about it. I know what I’ve got to do. I’m going to go down and do my work as usual.”
Zack Short, who was up as the 27th man Saturday and contributed a three-hit day in the Tigers’ 7-4 win in Game 1, will be recalled and stay with the team.
“Shorty brings a different skill set to that spot on the roster,” Hinch said. “Combine that with the fact we hadn’t quite got Nevin going until that one swing tonight. The combination of wanting him to get some at-bats and Shorty offering a different dynamic and the at-bats against left-handed pitching is what we’re looking at.”
In Short, the Tigers have a plus defender Hinch can plug into multiple positions around the diamond, including outfield, which is key with Kerry Carpenter on the injured list. Short gives the Tigers a similar dimension as Ryan Kreidler did at the beginning of the season.
“Those conversations are hard, in general,” Hinch said. “We wanted to give (Nevin) a longer look but things didn’t work out for either one of us right now. As I told Nev, he’s going to be back. He’s got to get some at-bats. We don’t have the playing time right now looking at the next couple of weeks.”
It took some high-level managerial chess to get to the point where Nevin was called off the bench to pinch-hit for left-handed hitting Nick Maton with two on and nobody out against lefty Keegan Akin in the sixth.
Hinch knew that Orioles manager Brandon Hyde would likely counter. Right-hander Mike Baumann was up and ready. Nevin had faced Baumann once, last week and grounded out. Right-handed hitters were 2 for 30 against Baumann this season. It seemed advantage Orioles.
“There’s multiple parts to that,” Hinch said. “With Akin in there, I’m not going to let him steal as many left-handed at-bats as they can.”
Hinch already sent up Short for Zach McKinstry (walk) and Riley Greene singled. Right-handed hitting Javier Báez plated one run with a fielder’s choice grounder and an error on shortstop Jorge Mateo.
“You’ve got to give them a decision to make,” Hinch said, on why he had Nevin in the on-deck circle during Báez’s at-bat. “Otherwise he just gets the left-on-left matchup (with Maton). I saw that left-on-left matchup last week with Akin and Maton (strikeout). I wanted to make him make a decision.
“He came with Baumann. Nev is going to make good decisions. It’s a tough matchup but he delivered.”
Baumann left a 2-2 slider up and over the plate and Nevin shellacked it. He hit it 421 feet into the shrubs in dead center – a three-run homer.
“Seeing his slider last time helped,” Nevin said. “Seeing it last time helped going into this at-bat. I was able to stay on it longer. … I was fired up and that had everything to do with (Hinch) trusting me in that situation and coming through and putting us back in the game.”
That turned out to be the Tigers’ final gasp.
“I’m proud of our guys for continuing to play,” Hinch said. “That four-run inning was a good bounce back. But that’s been a characteristic of our team. We keep playing. We’re going to play all 27 outs.”
The Orioles nicked Tigers starter Matthew Boyd for four runs in the second inning with a run of softly-hit, seeing-eyed knocks. Infield single by Mateo (exit velocity of 67 mph). Bloop single by former Tiger James McCann (71 mph off the bat). An opposite-field, ground ball single by Ryan McKenna (94 mph). A hard-hit RBI single by rookie Joey Ortiz (108 mph). A cue shot that dropped on the right field chalk line by Austin Hays (75 mph).
And a run-scoring wild pitch to cap it off.
“Boyd never quite executed great the whole game,” Hinch said. “He had a hard time getting to the top rail (of the strike zone), which is generally one of his strengths. When he doesn’t do that, the change-up becomes a little more vulnerable to contact.
“They put up good at-bats and kept the line moving. You don’t have to kill the baseball to create an inning.”
Boyd, stoic as ever, locked back in and set down 13 of the next 14 Orioles hitters.
“You define success differently as a starting pitcher,” Boyd said. “You can focus on the results, which were the hits or the weak contact. But it’s like, can I get in a different position with that pitch? Is my delivery perfect? Good or bad.
“We made the adjustments after the second inning and we weren’t running away from contact. We were going right back in there with it and it was going really good.”
Then came the knockout punch.
With two outs in the sixth inning, Boyd walked left-handed hitting Gunnar Henderson. He was at 97 pitches and Hinch had right-hander Jose Cisnero up in the bullpen with right-handed swinging McKenna coming up. Pitching coach Chris Fetter went out to talk to Boyd.
“We had a pretty good plan,” Hinch said. “Fett went out there. We had a plan to use change-ups and high fastballs. Didn’t execute and he made us pay.”
Boyd got ahead 0-2 with a high fastball and a change-up – two swinging strikes. He missed with a slider in the dirt and tried to come back with an elevated four-seamer. McKenna hit it into the Tigers bullpen in left.
“I was really grateful to be in that position,” Boyd said. “I’ve got to get into that position again. That pitch, I just missed over the heart of the plate and down. My fastball plays up and that’s where I wanted to be with it. But I missed. That’s completely on me.”
Hinch was asked why he didn’t go to Cisnero in that spot.
“They would’ve countered with one of their three lefties on the bench,” he said, referencing Cedric Mullins, Ryan O’Hearn and Adam Frazier. “I’m probably not getting that at-bat anyway. I’m also not getting the at-bat behind him (meaning Hyde would pinch-hit for right-handed hitting Joey Ortiz. That’s one of those counter moves.
“The choice was Boyd-McKenna or Cisnero against a left-handed hitter to start his outing. That has not been a great recipe either. We got ahead and we felt good about it. When it doesn’t work out that’s when the what-ifs start.”
After the split, the Tigers fall to 10-16, 2-13 against teams from the American League East.