Short’s pinch-hit HR helps Tigers close road trip strong

Detroit Tigers

KANSAS CITY — The Tigers had a late-night flight home, thanks to a getaway evening game against the Royals and a 29-minute rain delay. They got a much-needed lift from an unexpected source.

While Zack Short has forged a late-inning role off Detroit’s bench over the last few weeks, most of his contributions have been on the defensive end, a closer of sorts in the middle infield as a defensive replacement. On Wednesday, he got a chance to make his impact at the plate and didn’t wait long to do it.

After entering as a sixth-inning pinch-hitter for Akil Baddoo, Short took his hack, sending the first pitch he saw 416 feet to Kauffman Stadium’s left-field seats for a three-run homer to put the Tigers up for good in a 6-4 win.

The Tigers still had a long night and a quick turnaround ahead, opening a crucial four-game series against the White Sox on Thursday at Comerica Park. A series win over the Royals and a 3-3 road trip — their second consecutive road trip at break-even or better — made the flight a lot easier.

For a road trip marked by game-changing hits from key contributors, Short’s first career pinch-hit homer was a nice finish.

“It’s a blast,” Short said, pun intended. “And winning, being in every single game, it feels that much sweeter. You dream about being up here, but when you’re winning, everything kind of rolls. That’s what you dream about.”

Manager A.J. Hinch has been playing lefty-righty matchups all season at key spots but usually with other hitters. When the Royals replaced Zack Greinke with lefty Josh Taylor, Hinch used Short to pinch-hit for Baddoo with runners at the corners and one out.

“I faced that guy last month a few times,” Short said, referencing a series with Triple-A Toledo against Omaha. “I wasn’t really expecting one pitch or another, but I saw it early. All we needed was something in the outfield there, and I put the best swing I could on it.”

It was a huge hit for the team’s psyche, given not only the turnaround ahead, but the up-and-down road trip just completed. Here are three takeaways from the trip:

1. Greene hits the bookends
Riley Greene began this road trip with a home run, a 40-degree loft into the right-field seats at Nationals Park to continue his tear from the previous homestand. Then Greene went hitless for the rest of the series, flummoxed by a steady diet of breaking pitches. He fell into a 0-for-12 slump that ended with a broken-bat single off the Royals’ Aroldis Chapman. With the trip nearing its end, Greene struck again Wednesday, pouncing on a hanging sinker from Greinke in the fourth and sending it 440 feet into Kauffman Stadium’s right-field fountains to take the lead and end Greinke’s hitless start.

Greene had three multi-hit games on this trip. The Tigers won all three. Detroit is 9-1 this month when Greene has a multi-hit game. It’s not exactly fair to place a heavy burden of a team’s offense on a 22-year-old hitter in his first full Major League season, but he has help from Javier Báez and Spencer Torkelson.

2. Missed chances at more runs
The Tigers were oddly silent against Nationals lefty Patrick Corbin last Saturday, and they had a hard time against Royals spot starter Mike Mayers on Tuesday. But for most of the road trip, Detroit put traffic on the basepaths. Bringing runners home and producing big innings became an issue, however, after Friday’s opener in Washington.

The Tigers went 8-for-35 with runners in scoring position from Sunday through Tuesday, stranding double-digit runners in each game. They left 13 runners on base in Monday’s extra-inning win despite Báez’s bases-clearing double in the 10th inning. A two-run double from Jonathan Schoop in the eighth on Wednesday provided insurance runs that eventually loomed large, as well as his first RBIs of the season.

3. Bullpen stands strong
While the Tigers didn’t get a quality start on the entire trip, the bullpen filled the void and kept the Tigers in games, sometimes in non-traditional roles. Alex Lange’s two innings in a non-save situation Monday shut down the Royals long enough for the Tigers to take over in extra innings. Will Vest entered in the middle innings to retire Bobby Witt Jr. with a runner in scoring position twice in three days, including Wednesday that led to his first win of the year.

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