Tigers suffer 4-1 setback in opener against first-place Twins

Detroit News

Detroit – Fuses were short on this damp Friday but the Tigers’ offensive wick never got lit.

Twins right-hander Kenta Maeda hadn’t pitched in a big-league game since April 26, sidelined with a triceps injury. And when he walked Zach McKinstry and gave up a single to Spencer Torkelson in the bottom of the first inning, it looked like there might still be some rust on the 35-year-old.

Not so. He struck out Kerry Carpenter, induced a 6-4-3 double-play from Javier Báez and then cruised through five scoreless innings. The Tigers mustered just two more singles off him and he left with the Twins well on their way to a 4-1 win in the first of three games this weekend at Comerica Park.

“He changed speeds, he changed pitches,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “We didn’t execute against his secondary pitches. He doesn’t throw a ton of fastballs so you have to be disciplined to his splitter-slider combo. All of our guys had a hard time handling those pitches.”

Maedo threw 58 sliders and splitters and got seven swinging strikes, eight called strikes and a lot of soft contact.

“It starts right down the middle and then ends up a ball or two off the plate,” Carpenter said.

The Tigers’ only offensive threat came in the sixth against relievers Jovani Moran and Brock Stewart.

BOX SCORE: Twins 4, Tigers 1

With one out, right-handed pinch-hitter Andy Ibanez doubled off the lefty Moran and Báez walked. Manager AJ Hinch sent right-handed hitting Jonathan Schoop to bat for lefty Carpenter and the Twins countered with the right-handed Stewart.

Schoop’s infield single loaded the bases.

Matt Vierling followed with an RBI single, winning an eight-pitch battle, fouling off three tough, 3-2 cutters before lining a single to right.

“Those last two at-bats were probably two of the most grinding at-bats I’ve had in my life,” said Vierling, who also worked a seven-pitch walk in the ninth against closer Jhoan Duran.

With the bases still loaded, Miguel Cabrera hit a hard ground ball up the middle, but right at second baseman Kyle Farmer, who turned it into a fast, inning-ending double-play.

The Twins built a 3-0 lead with two big swings against lefty Joey Wentz in the second inning.

Wentz faced these same Twins on Saturday in Minneapolis and limited them to two runs in six innings with a career-best nine strikeouts.

More: ‘We haven’t earned that right’: Hinch keeps Tigers’ focus on today, not division race

He came out in attack-mode again, just like he did at Target Field, using his changeup as his main secondary pitch to his four-seam fastball. He breezed through the first inning in eight pitches – all fastballs and changeups.

He threw first-pitch fastballs to the first three batters, which did not escape Royce Lewis’ attention. Lewis ambushed Wentz’s first-pitch fastball to leadoff the second inning, lofting a solo home run into the seats in left field.

At that point, Wentz hadn’t thrown a curveball or a cutter. He threw his first curveball on a 3-2 pitch to former Willi Castro and walked him. He threw his cutter in a 1-2 count to left-handed hitting Max Kepler. Unfortunately, he left it in the middle of the plate and Kepler launched his 10th homer of the year, a two-run blast to right-center.

It ended up being a 37-pitch second inning.

“They came out with a different game plan against him,” Hinch said. “They were really aggressive all through the game just hunting pitches.”

Wentz fought his way off the ropes, using the Twins’ aggression against. He put zeros through the fifth inning working 10-, 8- and 17-pitch innings.

“When I was throwing quality pitches in the zone, they were looking to swing at them,” Wentz said. “When I was quality in the zone they were swinging early and fortunately I had some quick innings.”

He was at 79 pitches entering the sixth. Hinch had right-hander Brendan White warming but he wanted Wentz to get through the first three hitters – Farmer, switch-hitter Castro and lefty Kepler.

It didn’t go exactly has Hinch hoped. Farmer doubled, Castro walked and Kepler was safe after center fielder Vierling dropped his shallow fly ball.

“I just didn’t finish the outing,” Wentz said. “Pretty upset about that.”

White, thus, entered with the bases loaded and no outs. His first pitch went to the backstop, a run-scoring wild pitch. But he locked right in, retiring Christian Vazquez on a grounder to short and striking out Michael A. Taylor and pinch-hitting Alex Kirilloff, both looking.

Strong work, limiting the damage to a run.

Taylor ended up getting ejected by home plate umpire Lance Barrett for arguing the called third strike. Assistant hitting coach Derek Shomon was also ejected.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli was ejected earlier, during the three-run outburst in the second inning. He was beefing at home plate umpire Lance Barrett from the dugout, complaining that Wentz had balked repeatedly.

Barrett warned Baldelli: “No more, Rocco.”

Baldelli kept chirping. Barrett ejected him.

The Tigers weren’t overly enamored with Barrett’s strike zone, either. Torkelson stood bent over in the batter’s box for several seconds after he was called out on a pitch that showed up below the box on the K-Zone in the eighth inning.

Rough night.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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