Tigers leave nothing to chance, blank Pirates 4-0 in opener

Detroit News

Detroit − In honor of the NBA’s draft lottery, we will begin this baseball story with a quote from former Detroit Piston Rasheed Wallace.

“When you got them down, you got to step on their necks.”

The Tigers paid heed to Sheed on Tuesday. The Pittsburgh Pirates limped into Comerica Park for this two-game set with a 2-10 record in May. And the Tigers wasted no time stepping on their neck.

They scored four times in the first three innings off Pirates starter Luis Ortiz and entrusted the rest of the night to right-hander Michael Lorenzen and the bullpen − Tigers 4, Pirates 0.

“It’s big to come out strong against anybody,” said Spencer Torkelson, who along with Riley Greene was in the middle of the Tigers’ early attack. “Especially a team that’s been struggling recently. We felt the life come out of them a little bit but we kept our foot on the pedal. We played until the last out.”

Torkelson had two bullet doubles. He knocked in a run in the first and scored a run in the third. Both were low-flying missiles, hit to the gap in left-center. The first had an exit velocity of 106 mph, the second 108.7.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, Pirates 0

“I was just trying to be aggressive from the first pitch,” he said. “The last game I let them have the get-move-over pitches because I was so sold out on the heater. Tonight I was ready for anything that looked good.”

Greene produced his second three-hit game − notching hits on three different pitches − and was robbed of a fourth hit by a diving catch in right field by Josh Palacios.

“It’s so special when he gets hot like this,” Torkelson said. “It’s almost like they should just throw it down the middle and hope he hits it hard at somebody because it seems like they just can’t get him out.”

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Both are sizzling in May. Greene is hitting .411 (21 for 51) with six doubled and a homer. Torkelson is hitting .300 (15-for-50) with six doubles and a home run.

“They’re part of a team offense that has been better over the same span,” manager AJ Hinch said. “But they’re going to be a big part of what we’re doing today and they are going to be a big part of what we’re doing tomorrow and in the future. It’s nice to see them grow up a little bit and learn a lesson or two.”

Hinch also cautioned that this was no anointment ceremony. There will be more valleys and more peaks to come.

“But when they’re hot together, it’s a good glimpse of a strong middle of the order,” he said. “And when they struggle together, it’s a reminder that they have plenty still to learn about how to stay consistent at this level. But they are good players and they are ours.

“And we are really fortunate to have them here at the same time.”

Akil Baddoo created his own brand of mayhem in the third inning, as well. He fought off a two-strike pitch and rolled an infield single. That advanced Torkelson to third base. Baddoo, stretching his lead off first, drew an errant throw from Ortiz.

Torkelson scored and Baddoo scampered to third. A couple pitches later, he scored on a wild pitch.

“Taking the lead was big,” Hinch said. “Giving Lorenzen a lead right now the way he’s using his pitches and getting some swings and misses and soft contact, and we’re playing pretty good defense, a lead is good.”

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Insurmountably good, as it turned out. Lorenzen blanked Pittsburgh for six innings with a season-high seven strikeouts. In his last three starts, covering 20 innings, he’s allowed just two runs.

“My goal is to go out and attack the zone and fill up the zone,” Lorenzen said. “It makes it that much easier when you know you have a cushion.”

Like the two previous starts, he relied heavily on his four-seam fastball to set up his changeup and slider against a predominantly left-handed lineup. He got 13 swinging strikes and 17 called strikes (eight with his four-seamer). You wouldn’t know it, but he said he was fighting himself in the first two innings.

“I was definitely fighting my body early on,” he said. “That where the three-ball counts (five in the first two innings) came from. I had a conversation with AJ and (pitching coach Chris) Fetter about just trusting my stuff. Even though your body doesn’t feel great, just trust that your stuff is going to do what it’s supposed to do.

“In the third inning I felt my body open up and I was able to trust myself even more.”

It helped him, too, that he was able to catch on to the Pirates’ attack plan pretty early.

“They were spitting on (taking) my changeup down in the zone so I got a lot of fastball takes down in the zone,” he said. “They were assuming they were changeups. That’s where the punch-outs came from.”

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Right-hander Will Vest put up two more zeros. He’s now allowed two runs in 12.2 innings with 15 strikeouts since being recalled from Triple-A Toledo.

“Those were two big innings,” Hinch said. “He’s regained the confidence that was missing in the spring and he’s executing better. He’s a really good bridge and he can be used in a lot of different roles.”

Jose Cisnero put a bow on it, pitching a clean ninth.

“This team is incredible,” Greene said. “Just seeing the energy throughout the clubhouse and seeing all the faces and all the smiles. This team is really good and we can do a lot of good things. I’m excited for the rest of the season.”

The Tigers (19-21) are 9-4 this month.


Twitter: @cmccosky

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