Detroit — Eric Haase wasn’t trying to be argumentative. He just wanted to make his point.
“I just simply told him that they’re not on the plate,” he said. “I didn’t think it was that big of an issue. I wasn’t really arguing as much as I was just telling him that’s not a strike.”
Haase, who had been called out on strikes in the fourth inning — with the first and third strikes being borderline, at best — was walking back to the dugout when home plate umpire Nic Lentz took off his mask and said something back to him.
That brought Tigers manager AJ Hinch out of the dugout, an encounter that escalated after Lentz hastily ejected him.
“I was thrown out on my way back to the dugout,” Hinch said. “I went out to make sure Haasey stayed in the game. When he took his mask off, that escalated things. I told him to worry about the strike zone. But, I’m glad Haase stayed in the game and I didn’t.
“I mean, it didn’t much matter either way. But my job is to keep him in the game.”
The episode had minimal impact on the Tigers’ 8-0 loss to the Pirates Wednesday at Comerica Park. But Lentz’s wide strike zone certainly played into the hands of Pirates’ 43-year-old lefty Rich Hill, who lived in and off the strike zone for six scoreless, one-hit innings.
“Hill is a veteran,” Haase said. “He was living on the corners and off and he was getting (the calls). There was no need for him to throw it over the plate. A guy like that is going to take advantage of it. Overall, it was just a bad day of baseball for us.”
A leadoff, first-inning infield single by Matt Vierling was the only hit the Tigers mustered against Hill and three Pirates relievers. Tigers’ hitters struck out 14 times, including seven against Hill.
“The art of pitching is still alive if you watched today’s game,” Hinch said. “Rich Hill was really good. He changed angles, changed speeds, changed pace. He got a lot of quick outs. They call him crafty because he’s left-handed and he’s a veteran. But was just really good.”
Hill threw six pitches with a velocity range of slow (89 mph fastball) to slowest (65 mph curveball). He also, as Hinch said, mixed up the speed of delivery, sometimes pausing, sometimes going quickly. By the end of his six innings, he was throwing pitches from three-quarter and sidearm angles.
“He’s funky,” Vierling said. “He definitely worked super-fast, at times, and he mixed his speeds a ton. He just gets you off-balance.”
On the other side of the coin, Eduardo Rodriguez, who had been dominant over his last six starts, was human.
He was nicked for four runs in five laborious innings.
“It was one of those days where the command wasn’t there and they took advantage of it,” said Rodriguez, who had allowed one run or less in his last six starts. “It was off on all of my pitches.”
Things veered off course for Rodriguez in a 29-pitch second inning. After a leadoff single and a walk, it looked like he might wriggle off the hook. Catcher Jake Rogers pounced on a bunt in front of the plate and threw out the lead runner at third.
Rodriguez then got Chris Owings looking at strike three.
But No. 9 hitter Austin Hedges hit a first-pitch, mislocated cutter into the gap in right-center. The Tigers had aligned their outfield expecting the right-handed hitting Hedges to pull. Rodriguez was supposed to locate the cutter inside. Instead, he left it up and away and Hedges slammed it to the opposite gap.
Vierling, getting the start in center field for Riley Greene against left-handed Hill, tracked it to the warning track and got his glove on it. According to Statcast, there was both a .620 hit expectancy and a 60% catch probability on the play.
He did not secure the catch, though, and it was scored a two-run double.
“I was about eight steps in the other gap,” Vierling said. “He hit that ball into right-center and I felt like I was running forever to go get it. Unfortunately, it hit off my glove. I thought I gave everything I had to get it, just didn’t come up with the catch.”
Rodriguez applauded Vierling’s effort.
“(Hedges) took a good swing on that ball,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like that ball is probably out of some ballparks. I don’t complain about that. That was a hard-hit ball and (Vierling) made a good effort to get that ball.”
Rodriguez, who needed 98 pitches to work through five innings, also gave up a solo homer to Rodolfo Castro in the fourth on another center-cut cutter. The Pirates blew the game open with four runs in the eighth off Tyler Alexander (two of them were unearned).
“Eduardo wasn’t sharp,” Hinch said. “He didn’t have his fastball, he didn’t locate and they came out and ambushed him pretty well and won some at-bats. But, I want to credit the Pirates. They came out in a day game after getting beat (Tuesday night) and they’ve had a tough stretch and they made it hard on him.
“But Eduardo didn’t look particularly sharp.”