WASHINGTON — The Detroit Tigers need to beat the bad teams to prove themselves contenders in the American League Central. Upcoming series against the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox, a pair of weaker opponents in the division, are opportunities to move up in the standings.
But first, the Tigers have to take down the National League-worst Washington Nationals.
The Tigers nearly squandered an eight-run advantage but prevailed to beat a struggling team in Friday’s series opener at Nationals Park, winning 8-6. Matthew Boyd took a no-hitter into the sixth inning while four different hitters, including a red-hot Riley Greene, hammered home runs to provide much-needed run support.
“You just keep playing,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “If we’re going to preach, ‘Play the whole game,’ then we have to manage the whole game, and you have to be ready for the entire game.”
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The Tigers (20-22), sitting in second-place in the AL Central, followed Boyd as he set the tone with a bounce-back performance. The 32-year-old failed to complete the second inning in his last start against the Seattle Mariners, but this time, he didn’t surrender a hit to the Nationals until the sixth.
The Nationals broke up Boyd’s no-hitter on a leadoff double by Keibert Ruiz. Really, though, right fielder Matt Vierling lost the ball in the lights. The official scorer ruled the play a double, rather than an error, and two batters later, CJ Abrams laced a double — a real double — into the right-field corner to score the Nationals’ first run.
In his eighth start, Boyd allowed three runs on four hits and one walk with four strikeouts in 5⅔ innings. He generated 11 whiffs and 17 called strikes.
“It’s like every start, you take what you can do better,” Boyd said. “In the sixth inning, I got underneath the slider a little bit, and they hit it for a double and a home run. That part is unfortunate, but I made some adjustments coming into this and felt really good. All in all, it was a good team win.”
The three-run sixth inning from the Nationals, however, didn’t matter because the Tigers’ offense tied a season-high with eight runs. (The Tigers also scored eight runs May 3 against the New York Mets.)
Ahead 8-6, the Tigers asked right-handed reliever Alex Lange — the de facto closer — to get a four-out save. He stranded a runner in the eighth inning by striking out pinch-hitter Corey Dickerson, and in the ninth inning, he retired three batters in a row.
Lange has eight saves this season.
The Tigers, facing rookie right-hander Jake Irvin, scored three runs apiece in the first and third innings for a 6-0 lead.
Zach McKinstry launched his first career leadoff homer in the first inning for a 1-0 lead, and Akil Baddoo crushed his first homer of the season, a three-run shot, in the third for a 6-0 lead. In the first, the Tigers also received RBIs from Andy Ibáñez (groundout) and Baddoo (single).
“Felt great,” McKinstry said. “Got a curveball up-and-away, regathered myself and hit it the other way. I stayed on it. Sometimes, good things happen when you do that. I was super-excited to see it go over the fence and break up the no-hitter with a home run early.”
Before both of Baddoo’s hits, Nick Maton — who has been slumping recently — worked a pair of walks with two outs to keep the innings alive. He didn’t swing at any of the 11 pitches, primarily non-fastballs, thrown to him.
“I thought we really put some pressure on him,” Hinch said. “I thought our at-bats were good. We didn’t chase. I thought Maton had great at-bats, Riley had great at-bats, Akil had some really big two-out hits. We took advantage of a couple mistakes, but we put a lot of pressure on them because we did control the strike zone and a couple balls were hit out of the ballpark.”
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In the first inning, Irvin threw 18 balls and 18 strikes for a labor-intensive three outs. He allowed six runs (four earned runs) on five hits and four walks with one strikeout in 2⅔ innings, throwing 38 of 75 pitches for strikes.
The Tigers added solo home runs from Vierling (off right-handed reliever Hobie Harris) in the fifth inning and Greene (off righty reliever Thaddeus Ward) in the sixth. Greene hit a down-and-in sweeper with a 110.7 mph exit velocity and 40-degree launch angle for a 393-foot homer to right-center field.
It was Greene’s second pull-side homer in his past 12 games. The 22-year-old has hit safely in 17 of his last 19 games, batting .382 with six doubles, two homers, six walks and 16 strikeouts during the best stretch of his MLB career.
Maton, batting .155 in 39 games, collected his first hit since May 8 with a single off Harris’ splitter in the fourth inning.
The Tigers entered Friday’s game with the third-fewest homers (31) in baseball, ahead of only the Nationals (29) and the Cleveland Guardians (24).
“We did what we usually do,” McKinstry said. “We stayed aggressive in the (strike) zone today. We did well. We made some solid contact, and we’ll look to capitalize on it (again) tomorrow.”
A late rally
After Ruiz’s double — again, a mistake by Vierling — broke up Boyd’s no-hitter, the Nationals struck for three runs with Abrams’ RBI double and Lane Thomas’ three-run home run. Joey Meneses chased Boyd with a two-out double.
The Tigers turned to Rule 5 draft pick Mason Englert, a right-hander, to face switch-hitter Jeimer Candelario. A second-pitch changeup got the ex-Tiger to ground out to second, ending the inning.
But the Nationals tagged Englert in the seventh.
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Englert allowed three runs in the seventh but couldn’t get an out. The inning started with Dominic Smith’s leadoff walk, and he came around to score on a wild pitch from Englert. Then, Ruiz hit a two-run homer to right field.
The homer made it 8-6.
Left-handed reliever Chasen Shreve retired all three batters he faced to complete the seventh without further damage. Righty reliever Jason Foley recorded two outs (and walked Smith with two outs) in the eighth before Lange took over for the four-out save.
“We knew Dickerson was going to pinch-hit at some point, and Lange’s breaking ball is really tough,” Hinch said. “If they wanted to leave the righty in, we’ve got Foley. If they wanted to bring the lefty in, we have Lange. It’s nice to have both of those guys.”
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