Detroit Tigers grounded by Rich Hill, Pittsburgh Pirates in 8-0 loss

Detroit Free Press

In a matchup between Eduardo Rodriguez and Rich Hill, the 30-year-old Rodriguez was expected to outdo the 43-year-old Hill and carry the Detroit Tigers to another series victory.

After all, Rodriguez is pitching like an American League Cy Young Award candidate to start the season. But Hill outshined Rodriguez in Wednesday’s two-game series finale at Comerica Park, as the Tigers lost, 8-0, to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Hill allowed one hit and tossed six scoreless innings with seven strikeouts.

The Tigers (19-22) finished with one hit, three walks and 14 strikeouts. Manager A.J. Hinch was ejected by home plate umpire Nic Lentz for arguing balls and strikes in the fourth inning.

“The art of pitching is still alive if you watched today’s game,” Hinch said of Hill. “He was really good. He changed angles, changed speeds, changed pace. He got a lot of quick outs and stayed in the game longer than he has in his last couple starts. He pitched to the corners, didn’t make a ton of mistakes, fed off an aggressive group that we had today and never conceded.”

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The Pirates took a 2-0 lead on a crucial mistake, ruled a hit by the official scorer, with two outs in the second inning. Austin Hedges, one of the worst hitters in baseball, smacked a first-pitch cutter from Rodriguez to right-center field.

The ball traveled 399 feet to the warning track.

Center fielder Matt Vierling — starting instead of Riley Greene because the Tigers were facing a left-handed starting pitcher — dropped the ball, which bounced off his glove, while running toward the wall.

“Tough play,” Hinch said. “We’re playing (Hedges) to pull (the ball). The cutter was supposed to be middle-in, but it was middle-out. It looked like Vierling lost a little bit of his awareness of where he was. He went a really long way and then stumbled a little bit at the end.”

Rodriguez, who had given up two runs in his past 41⅔ innings (six starts) entering Wednesday’s start, put his glove over his face and appeared to shout in frustration. The Pirates scored two runs on Vierling’s mistake.

“First of all, I’m supposed to be throwing (the pitch) away and painting the corner to get a strike called,” Rodriguez said. “That ball is probably out in some ballparks, so I don’t really complain about that. He tried to get the ball, and the ball dropped.”

Meanwhile, the Tigers couldn’t touch Hill’s low-velocity pitches.

Vierling, who went 1-for-3 with one walk, delivered an infield single to start the bottom of the first inning, and from that point on, the Tigers failed to get another hit. Hill threw 46% curveballs, and his velocity on all his pitches sat between 64.6 mph and 89.8 mph.

After Hill’s six scoreless innings, three relievers from the Pirates’ bullpen slammed the door on the Tigers’ offense in the final three innings.

E-Rod unplugged

In his ninth start, Rodriguez allowed four runs on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts in five innings.

His season ERA jumped from 1.57 to 2.06.

After the two runs in the second inning, the Pirates tacked on a third run in the fourth inning when Rodolfo Castro hammered Rodriguez’s middle-middle cutter over the wall in left-center field.

“That was one of those days the command wasn’t there, and they took advantage of it,” Rodriguez said. “The command was off on all my pitches. … It happened during the game. I tried to figure it out during the game, but I felt like it was the same all the time.”

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Rodriguez conceded another run in the fifth inning, giving the Pirates a 4-0 lead, with back-to-back two-out hits from Bryan Reynolds (double) and Andrew McCutchen (single). He walked Carlos Santana before retiring Connor Joe to complete his outing.

He threw 65 of 98 pitches for strikes.

The location of his pitches weren’t as sharp compared to his previous six outings, in which he posted a 0.43 ERA with six walks and 41 strikeouts in 41⅔ innings. This time, he generated 11 whiffs and 17 called strikes.

“He just wasn’t sharp,” Hinch said. “He didn’t have his fastball. He didn’t really locate. They came out and ambushed him pretty well and won some at-bats. … They just took advantage of him.”

Uncontrolled zone

In the fourth inning, Eric Haase struck out on a called third strike for the second out. The pitch from Hill, a fifth-pitch cutter, ended up on the outside part of the plate. Hinch came out of the dugout to protect Haase, who was frustrated.

“I really wasn’t arguing as much as telling him, ‘Look, they’re not strikes. It’s got to be one or another,'” Haase said. “Next thing you know, A.J. is coming out and he had a pretty quick trigger. We were both really surprised by that. It is what it is.”

Hinch was almost immediately ejected by Lentz for arguing balls and strikes.

“I got thrown out on my way back to the dugout, so I just went out to make sure Haase was going to stay in the game,” Hinch said. “When he took his mask off, that escalated things, and then I told him to worry about the strike zone. I’m glad Haase stayed in the game and I didn’t.”

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The Pirates increased their lead to 8-0 with a four-run seventh inning, which included a missed catch error by second baseman Jonathan Schoop, against left-handed reliever Tyler Alexander.

Alexander recorded one out in the seventh inning before exiting after 38 pitches. Right-handed reliever José Cisnero retired two of the three batters he faced to complete the inning.

Lefty Tyler Holton pitched scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth.

“It’s similar to E-Rod, just the lack of execution,” Hinch said of Alexander. “He wasn’t throwing the ball where he really wanted to. He was really frustrated with not throwing the ball where he wanted to and not being sharp.”

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

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