CLEVELAND — For the first time since 2015, the Detroit Tigers clinched the season series against the Cleveland Guardians.
Several Tigers played key roles in Sunday’s 4-1 victory, the third win for Detroit in the four-game series at Progressive Field. Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez anchored the Tigers by pitching into the seventh inning, while Spencer Torkelson and Kerry Carpenter launched home runs in the first and seventh innings, respectively.
The Tigers (57-67) trail the Guardians by 1½ games for second place in the American League Central.
“It’s nice to see the power,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said, “but the productive at-bats, the high-quality at-bats, guys coming off the bench, those are really important to win a series, especially a long one.”
Rodriguez found success against the Guardians for the third time this season, following eight scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts on April 18 at Comerica Park and seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts on May 10 at Progressive Field.
This time, Rodriguez allowed one run on four hits and one walk with six strikeouts in 6⅔ innings. The 30-year-old, who has a 3.03 ERA in 19 starts, crossed the 100-pitch mark for the fourth time this season, throwing 71 of 105 pitches for strikes.
“I probably wanted a couple more (pitches) because I needed one more out to get through seven (innings),” Rodriguez said. “I always want more and more and more. That’s what makes me who I am.”
Shortstop Jaiver Báez saved two singles from Rodriguez’s tab with spectacular plays — running toward third base — in the fifth and sixth innings.
“That’s why we call him ‘El Mago,'” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez retired the first nine batters he faced before Steven Kwan’s leadoff double in the fourth inning. He walked the next batter, José Ramírez, on five pitches but escaped a blow-up inning by inducing a double play against Oscar Gonzalez, a right-handed hitter, with a down-and-away changeup, which advanced Kwan to third base.
A two-out single from Ramon Laureano put the Guardians on the board, though, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 2-1. Rodriguez then bounced back by striking out Andres Gimenez, a fellow lefty, with a down-and-away slider.
In the third inning, Rodriguez struck out the side: Gabriel Arias (93.5 mph four-seam fastball), Zack Collins (93.9 mph sinker) and Brayan Rocchio (86.3 mph slider). He threw the slider to beat Rocchio, a switch-hitter batting from the right side, immediately after a mound visit from catcher Jake Rogers.
Rogers called for the slider.
“The first time through the lineup with (almost) all fastballs, that’s an advantage,” Rodriguez said. “That’s a big win for me. If I show them everything early, it’s going to be tough in the second or third time around, so that’s my plan all the time.”
Rodriguez exited his start following a two-out bunt single in the seventh inning. He wanted to stay in the game, but Hinch opted for left-handed reliever Tyler Holton for a matchup with Arias.
Arias grounded into an inning-ending forceout on the first pitch.
“He got over 100 (pitches), so I have to note that again,” Hinch said. “I think giving Holton some room for error and some breathing room is super-important. We don’t always want the tying run at the plate, or the tying run on base, before you go to the bullpen, especially when you got your good guys at the back that are available.”
Rodriguez used 52 four-seam fastballs (49.5%), 14 sliders (13.3%), 14 changeups (13.3%), 13 sinkers (12.4%) and 12 cutters (11.4%). He picked up his 17 whiffs with seven fastballs, four sliders, two changeups, two sinkers and two cutters.
For the third day in a row, the Tigers blasted a home run in the first inning.
In Sunday’s finale, Torkelson followed Matt Vierling’s five-pitch walk by taking rookie left-hander Logan Allen’s second-pitch fastball to right field. It marked Torkelson’s 22nd homer — and his third opposite-field homer — in 122 games this season.
The 23-year-old has seven homers in his past 11 games.
“He wants to use the fastball in, use the cutter in and then use the sweeper back-foot,” Torkelson said. “Watching the video, he might have been trying to go outside, which isn’t normal. The type of pitcher he is, and I know him, he wants to come inside with the fastball.”
The Tigers threatened soon after, loading the bases with two outs in the second inning — thanks to Báez’s walk, Andy Ibáñez’s single and Vierling’s single — for Torkelson’s second plate appearance in as many innings.
But Torkelson popped out to strand the bases loaded.
After Riley Greene’s single to start the third inning, Allen retired the final 11 batters he faced to complete his 99-pitch start on a positive note. The 24-year-old allowed two runs on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts over six innings.
“When you can punch first, it just relaxes the dugout,” Hinch said. “It’s not always going to be like that. We’re going to face some really good pitching from here on out, but it’s nice to do it here.”
Facing right-handed reliever Enyel De Los Santos, the Tigers added two more runs in the seventh for a 4-1 advantage.
Carpenter, the first batter to face De Los Santos, won a 10-pitch battle by slamming a slider for a 366-foot solo home run to right field. Báez, the next batter, was hit by a pitch and advanced to second base on a balk.
Hinch then played the platoon advantage, bringing in lefty Akil Baddoo as a pinch-hitter for Ibáñez; Baddoo delivered a single into center field, scoring Báez from second and giving the Tigers a three-run edge.
The next three batters struck out.
As for the Tigers’ bullpen, right-handed reliever Alex Lange retired three batters in a row in the bottom of the ninth inning to end the game. He logged his 18th save of the season, and his first since July 23.