Joey Wentz takes down Guardians in 6-2 win as Detroit Tigers near .500 record

Detroit Free Press

CLEVELAND — Detroit Tigers left-hander Joey Wentz, still considered a rookie despite pitching last season, painted the inside corner with a 96 mph fastball to win an 11-pitch battle for his third straight strikeout in the fifth inning.

The 25-year-old returned for the sixth and walked back-to-back batters, but he retired a pair of power hitters to complete his seventh start. Wentz allowed two runs across 5⅔ innings, and the Tigers won, 6-2, against the Cleveland Guardians in Monday’s three-game series opener at Progressive Field.

“For personal reasons, having the win was huge for me,” said Wentz, who earned his first win of the season. “Recently, if you watch our team, a lot of guys have been contributing. Everybody that gets in the game, we’re doing a good job of controlling what we can. But personally, it feels really good.”

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Eight starting position players produced 13 hits for the Tigers (16-18), winners in 14 of their past 23 games. Javier Báez struck out swinging in the sixth inning to end a career-best streak of 29 plate appearances without a strikeout.

“We controlled the strike zone pretty well (six walks, seven strikeouts),” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s the first time in a few games where we walked a little bit. We got some big hits and continued to put pressure on them with base runners.”

In the sixth inning, Wentz — who had retired 13 of the previous 14 batters — walked Steven Kwan and Amed Rosario. Those mistakes put two runners on base for José Ramírez, one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, with nobody out in a 5-2 game.

One swing could have tied the game.

But Wentz beat Ramírez.

Then, he beat Josh Bell.

“Not the way I saw the inning starting, but it happened,” Wentz said. “If you show those guys any fear, you’re probably screwed. The focus was just on making pitches and one out at a time.”

Right-handed reliever Will Vest replaced Wentz, and the Guardians countered with left-handed pinch-hitter Josh Naylor. Vest induced a groundout to strand the runners and keep the Tigers ahead by three runs.

“Really good changeups to him,” Hinch said. “He threw the fastball in to set the tone of the at-bat. He’s throwing a ton of strikes. I think Will is very confident now, especially coming out of spring where he had a gut check with getting sent to the minor leagues. He’s come up on a mission.”

Vest put runners on the corners with one out in the seventh inning and took a back seat to righty reliever Jason Foley. Myles Straw flew out to right field, and Steven Kwan lined out to shortstop.

The matchup between Foley and Kwan lasted 10 pitches.

Left-hander Chasen Shreve, who threw 26 pitches, kept the Guardians from scoring in the eighth and through two outs in the ninth. The Tigers, ahead by four runs, turned to righty Alex Lange — the de facto closer — for the final out with a runner on second base in a non-save situation.

Lange walked Straw on four pitches.

Kwan flew out to end the game.

“We’re trying to win the game,” Hinch said. “We worked so hard to win this game. The last thing I wanted to see, I didn’t want to see Kwan, Rosario, Ramírez. We needed to get to the last out. … This team deserved to win and our best pitchers at the end.”

Death by 13 hits

The Tigers scored three runs in the third inning and one run in the fourth inning to chase right-hander Tanner Bibee from his fourth start.

Bibee was lifted after Riley Greene drilled his two-strike curveball for a double to right-center field. The inning started with Andy Ibáñez’s walk and Eric Haase’s single.

Greene’s third double in four games put the Tigers ahead, 4-1.

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Four singles, one double and one walk provided a three-run third inning, sparked by three straight singles from Ibáñez, Haase and Zach McKinstry. McKinstry, Báez (single) and Nick Maton (double) drove in runs for a 3-1 advantage.

Spencer Torkelson drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases with one out, but Bibee retired Akil Baddoo (popout) and Miguel Cabrera (groundout).

“Could have been more (runs),” Hinch said. “But I liked that we were patient enough but still trying to get a good pitch to hit.”

Bibee gave up four runs on seven hits and four walks with two strikeouts in 3⅔ innings. In the sixth, Ibáñez pushed the Tigers’ lead to 5-2 when he turned on a first-pitch fastball from righty reliever Eli Morgan for a solo home run.

It was Ibáñez’s first homer with the Tigers.

“I’m grateful for receiving the opportunity to play on a daily basis almost,” said Ibáñez, hitting .333 in 10 games. “But also, it’s a result of hard work. Every time I go out to the field, I give 100% of myself. That’s who I am, so that’s what you see on the field.”

Haase (three hits) and Ibáñez (two hits) extended their hitting streaks to seven games and six games, respectively.

An RBI single from Greene extended the lead to 6-2 in the eighth inning.

Wentz not left out

Wentz allowed two runs on three hits and three walks with five strikeouts, throwing 56 of 92 pitches for strikes. He worked ahead in counts to put the Guardians in uncomfortable situations.

In the fifth inning, he struck out three straight batters.

“As he’s maturing, he’s starting to win some really big at-bats,” Hinch said. “He’s completing his repertoire to the point where we’re seeing a lot of maturity.”

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Wentz struck out Mike Zunino (swinging, 94.3 mph fastball), Gabriel Arias (swinging, 86.3 mph cutter) and Straw (called strike, 96 mph fastball). The fastball to Straw concluded an 11-pitch at-bat and the fifth inning.

The Guardians scored their two runs in the first and fourth innings. Ramírez drove in both runs, the first in a negative way and the second in a positive way. He grounded into a double play as a run scored in the first inning, then blasted Wentz’s 2-0 fastball for a solo home run to left-center field in the fourth inning.

The homer cut the Tigers’ lead to 4-2.

Wentz threw 45 fastballs (49%), 26 cutters (28%), 13 changeups (14%) and eight curveballs (9%). He generated seven swings and misses with three fastballs, three cutters and one curveball.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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