DETROIT — The Tigers have a challenge on their hands battling the AL West-leading Rangers this series. But they had their chances to give some of that pressure back.
One day after Eric Haase won Sunday’s game for Detroit with a 10th-inning walk-off sacrifice fly, he stepped to the plate on Monday afternoon against Nathan Eovaldi with an opportunity to break the game open in the second inning. Back-to-back walks from Spencer Torkelson and Nick Maton and an Akil Baddoo single had loaded the bases with nobody out, and Haase had worked a 2-1 count, a situation in which he has done damage this year (3-for-5, two doubles).
Haase got a 97 mph fastball over the plate and hit a bouncer to the right side — right at first baseman Nathaniel Lowe, who charged it and threw home for the force out. Two pitches later, former Ranger Andy Ibáñez went speeding down the line to try to avoid an inning-ending double play against his ex-teammates, but replay showed that Marcus Semien’s throw beat him to the bag.
It was a missed opportunity that doomed Detroit, but it was an opportunity that came about because of what the Tigers have been doing right for the past few weeks. And if they can keep up their recent patience at the plate, they should find more opportunities to win games against opponents up and down the standings.
Eovaldi walked as many batters in that second inning (two) as he had in any of his previous 10 starts this season. Not for any one inning in those starts, but the entire outings. His three walks Monday marked his highest total since May 6 of last year, and it matched his high since the start of 2020.
Eovaldi had averaged more than eight innings per start over his previous five outings and nearly seven innings per start on the season. Monday marked the first time he was unable to complete six innings since April 12. His exit after five scoreless innings tied his shortest outing of the year.
“They get their walks,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said of the Tigers’ offense. “We did walk a few today, and Nate was a little bit off. I think he’d tell you that he wasn’t quite on top of his game with his normally really good command. But you give them credit. They had some long at-bats to get walks. That’s kind of the reason why they have gotten a lot of improvement from their offense, is their on-base ability.”
This is what the Tigers do these days. They grind at-bats, work counts, draw walks and run up pitch counts, which is incredible considering how little of that they did over the previous few seasons. Their 9.4 percent walk rate ranks seventh in the Majors, up from 29th last year. Their 3.923 pitches per plate appearance ranks 12th, up from 26th.
“We’re trying to stay disciplined to hitting pitches that we can handle,” manager A.J. Hinch said.
The Tigers haven’t finished a season ranked in the top half of the Majors in walk rate since 2013, when Detroit ranked 10th with a lineup that featured Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter and Johnny Peralta.
All that patience creates scoring chances, either against the starter or the relievers who follow. The Tigers won their weekend series against the White Sox largely by doing the latter, rallying twice off Joe Kelly.
No starter has lasted past six innings against the Tigers since Mariners rookie Bryce Miller tossed seven scoreless innings on May 13. Just three pitchers have tossed a quality start against the Tigers in that span: Rich Hill on May 17, Patrick Corbin on May 20 and Lance Lynn on Friday. Dylan Cease labored for 102 pitches over four innings Sunday. Lucas Giolito walked seven batters over 3 2/3 innings last Thursday. Even Lynn needed 104 pitches for his six quality innings.
As they await All-Star Martin Perez (6-1, 3.83 ERA) on Tuesday night, followed by Dane Dunning (4-0, 1.67) on Wednesday afternoon, that patience still bodes well.
“I think we did a good job getting Eovaldi out of the game after five,” Hinch said. “We made him throw a ton of pitches. We made him work. We drew some walks. We didn’t come up with the big hit. And in a couple other games where we drew a bunch of walks, we did come up with a bigger hit.”