DETROIT — Scott Harris and A.J. Hinch have been preaching the value of dominating the strike zone — for hitters and pitchers — since Harris was hired as the Tigers’ president of baseball operations late last season.
Tigers hitters drew seven walks off an opposing pitcher for the first time since 2012. They did so off longtime American League Central nemesis Lucas Giolito, who entered the series opener at Comerica Park with 12 walks in 10 starts this season.
On the flip side, Alex Faedo — making his 16th Major League start — struck out a career-best 10 White Sox and walked none over six quality innings. The 27-year-old became the youngest Tigers pitcher to post double-digit strikeouts in a game without a walk since Drew Smyly in 2012.
Faedo also joined Aníbal Sánchez and Denny McLain as the only Detroit hurlers to post double-digit strikeouts, no walks and three or fewer hits in an outing.
“It’s a pretty perfect day when it comes to controlling the strike zone,” Hinch said.
The win moved the Tigers (23-25) two games back of the idle Twins (26-24) atop the AL Central, the closest Detroit has been to the top of the division since April 4 — five games into the season.
At 48 games in, this is the deepest into a season that the Tigers have been this close to the division lead since 2017, the final year of Justin Verlander, Sánchez and Ian Kinsler with Detroit.
That Detroit did so against Chicago after a late-night return from Kansas City was impressive.
“We did get back late,” said Spencer Torkelson, whose two-out RBI single chased Giolito from the game in the fourth, “but we didn’t have BP. I know I slept until 1:30, so I wasn’t sleep-deprived.
“I think we had a great approach and it really paid off. No one complained about how late we got in. We knew we had a game to play.”
The Tigers also knew they needed patience after Giolito struck out three in the first around Riley Greene’s two-out walk. Zach McKinstry led off with a strikeout on a slider in the dirt before Javier Báez and Torkelson fanned on pitches in the strike zone, caught by Giolito’s change of speeds.
Giolito drew four swings and misses in that inning. He drew four swinging strikes over his next 18 batters. Tigers hitters chased just 16 of his 89 pitches out of the strike zone. They still connected on more than half the pitches they chased.
“You’ve got to keyhole his fastball, get it close to you,” Torkelson said. “He doesn’t command his slider really well, doesn’t throw that for a strike very often, so if you can spit on that, you can get into some advantage counts. And then really kind of just see the changeup up, because it’s a really good pitch.”
“We forced him into the zone,” Hinch said, “and he couldn’t find it. I think the bigger the moments became, the more disciplined we became, which is a good characteristic if we can continue to do that.”
Greene saw 19 pitches and three full counts over three plate appearances against Giolito without putting any in play, walking twice before taking a fastball just on the corner in the fourth. McKinstry saw 12 pitches without a ball in play against Giolito, walking on four pitches in the third inning and five pitches in the fourth.
“His walk rate’s pretty low,” Greene said. “We were just trying to stay on the heater and swing at good pitches, really.”
The Tigers walked the bases loaded on Giolito in the third inning, including an automatic ball four to Torkelson on a quick pitch, before Giolito escaped with a lineout double play. Once Akil Baddoo homered to lead off the fourth inning, Giolito’s good fortune ran out.
Miguel Cabrera, whose double-play grounder helped Giolito escape a second-inning jam, followed Baddoo’s homer with a four-pitch walk. Eric Haase hit the next pitch for a double, and the big inning was on.
The Tigers sent nine batters to the plate, which was about all that could throw Faedo off his game after retiring 12 of Chicago’s first 14 batters. Gavin Sheets led off the fifth with a homer, but Faedo regrouped to strike out the next three batters and fan five of his final six batters.
Faedo drew 18 swings and misses, 11 off his slider.
“He was incredible,” Hinch said. “He got into chase counts and executed some chase pitches.”