Tigers’ Andy Ibanez sparks offense, hits first homer in 6-2 win against Guardians

Detroit News

Cleveland – AJ Hinch was asked after the game Monday if Andy Ibanez, who started the season at Toledo, was starting to feel a part of things on this team.

“He should feel 100 percent a part of it because he’s playing virtually every day,” Hinch said. “And he is contributing, which is nice. I think everyone has embraced him in there. I know his first 10 at-bats were not good but I applaud him for staying in it mentally and physically and putting up really good at-bats.

“He sparked us tonight.”

That he did, with a single, a walk and his first home run, scoring three times as the Tigers beat the Cleveland Guardians, 6-2, in the first of three at Progressive Field.

“I’m grateful that I am getting the opportunity to play almost on a daily basis,” the Cuban-born Ibanez said through Tigers’ bilingual interpreter Carlos Guillen. “But this is a result of hard work. Every time I go out there I just try to give 100 percent of myself. That’s who I am.”

After going hitless in his first 10 at-bats, Ibanez has gone 9 for 17 with three doubles, the homer and he’s scored five runs.

“I just like that he’s putting up good at-bats and makes good decisions,” said Hinch, who has played Ibanez at third, second and in right field. “He controls the zone and he is hitting the ball hard. He showed tonight some of that pull power he showed in Triple-A.”

All his damage Monday came against right-handed pitching, too. Hinch has been using him as a matchup against left-handed pitches.

But he started a three-run rally in the third inning against righty starter Tanner Bibee with a single. He walked and scored in the fourth. In the sixth, he ambushed the first pitch from right-handed reliever Eli Morgan, a 92-mph fastball and sent it 399 feet onto the left field concourse for his first home run as a Tiger.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 6, Guardians 2

The Tigers brought their hitting shoes to Cleveland. They banged out 13 hits. Eric Haase had three hits, scored twice and was thrown out at the plate in the fourth inning on a perfectly-executed relay by Guardians center fielder Myles Straw and second baseman Andres Gimenez.

Riley Greene contributed a single, double and two RBIs. Javier Báez had an RBI single and has now hit safely in 18 of his last 20 games. Nick Maton doubled in a run and walked.

The second storyline from this one was Tigers lefty starter Joey Wentz. As reporters surrounded him after the game, his teammates were howling and shouting, calling out “Dogger,” which is his nickname.

“The team chemistry is real,” Wentz said, blushing. “It’s a legit thing.”

There are no unimportant starts for pitchers, especially young pitchers like Wentz who is still trying to secure his niche in the Tigers’ rotation.

But this one seemed to have a little extra weight on it.

He was coming off a rough one at Comerica Park where he was tagged for three home runs by the Mets. He’s had good moments in his six previous starts but he came into Cleveland with an ERA just under a touchdown (6.67).

More: How a small but savvy veteran play turned into a harsh lesson for Tigers rookie Englert

The Tigers optioned Spencer Turnbull to Triple-A Toledo on Sunday. There’s been talk of going to a four-man rotation for the next two weeks.

It wasn’t make-or-break, but it would be a good time for Wentz to spin a good one.

He spun a good one.

Wentz allowed two runs on three hits in 5.2 innings. And with the tying run on base, got two huge outs in the sixth.

“For personal reasons, to get this win was huge for me,” Wentz said. “But if you’ve been watching our team recently, a lot of guys are contributing. Really, everybody is. We’ve been doing a good job of controlling what we can. Personally, though, this feels good.”

Steven Kwan led off the game with a double and scored on a double-play grounder by Jose Ramirez. Then in the fourth, Wentz fell behind Ramirez 2-0 and fed him a 93-mph cookie. Ramirez crushed it 410 feet into the left field bleachers.

But that was it. Until the sixth, he was filling up the strike zone with four-seam fastballs (95-96 mph), cutters and changeups. He induced seven ground-ball outs with five strikeouts. He struck out the side in the fifth, ending it by winning an 11-pitch battle with Straw.

With the count full, Wentz pounded five straight four-seam fastballs. The last one was painted on the inside corner, called strike three.

“Haase told me in the dugout that he was just going to keep calling for fastballs,” Wentz said. “I thought I located that last one pretty good.”

He seemed to be fatiguing in the sixth. With the Tigers up 5-2, Wentz, out of the blue, walked Kwan and Amed Rosario to start the inning.

“Obviously, not the way I wanted to start the inning,” Wentz said.

That set up a showdown with Ramirez. After a visit from pitching coach Chris Fetter, Wentz went back on the attack. He got ahead of Ramirez with a changeup and then got him to pop out.

“If you show those guys any fear or anything like that, you are probably screwed,” Wentz said. “Just focus on making pitches and taking it an out at a time.”

After he retired Josh Bell, he was at 92 pitches and Hinch summoned right-hander Will Vest. Guardians manager Terry Francona countered with left-handed hitting pinch-hitter Josh Naylor.

Vest got him to ground out to second with a changeup. The Tigers were able to neutralize Naylor with changeups in the series at Comerica Park last month.

The Guardians brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh, too, chasing Vest with a pair of singles. Right-hander Jason Foley cleaned up the miss, winning a 10-pitch fight with Kwan. He threw five straight, two-strike sinkers. All of them 96-99 mph. All of them located up and away. Kwan fouled four of them off behind the Cleveland dugout.

Finally, on the 10th pitch, Foley threw it a little more inside and induced a soft liner to Báez at shortstop.

“That was the most satisfying part of the night right there,” Wentz said. “Watching Vest pick me up and then the guys closing it out. Our hitters grinded down their pitchers. It was a good team win.”

The Tigers have won six of their last seven games to improve to 16-18 on the season. They are in position to take their sixth of the last eight series.


Twitter: @cmccosky

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