Astros 4, Tigers 1: From feast to famine

Bless You Boys

A day after racking up a ton of offense, the Tigers nearly got no-hit on Father’s Day as Ronel Blanco shut them down for seven innings. Kenta Maeda took some early damage before he settled into his outing and the Tigers couldn’t scratch out any offense until the ninth inning, losing their third series in a row.

The Tigers didn’t know for sure who they were going to face in Sunday’s series concluding matchup in Houston until Sunday morning. It did turn out to be Ronel Blanco after the Astros used up a lot of bullpen innings in Saturday’s loss, and unfortunately the 30-year-old right-hander was on his game.

Blanco’s good fourseam-changeup combination backed with a solid slider is effective when he’s commanding the ball well, and so far this year he’s been an improved pitcher in that regard. Wenceel Pérez lined out to start the game, and Blanco struck out Matt Vierling and Riley Greene to end the top of the first inning.

Things went far less smoothly for Kenta Maeda, who throughout the early innings seemed to be stretching his hips and back quite a bit trying to get loose. One way or another, the high end command that Maeda needs to succeed was not in evidence early on. He fell behind Jose Altuve 2-0 and gave up a single to start the bottom of the first. Alex Bregman flew out, but a wild pitch moved Altuve to second, where Yordan Alvarez singled him home. Maeda wrapped up the inning from there, but took a line drive off the bat of Jon Singleton off his right thigh on the final out of the inning. The right-hander collected the ball and threw out Singleton before collapsing to one knee in pain. He would stay in the game, but this didn’t bode well for a long outing.

The Tigers went quickly in order in the top of the second, and Maeda had to go right back out there almost immediately. He got a ground out of Jeremy Peña to start the bottom of second, but Mauricio Dubôn singled and after Trey Cabbage flew out, Maeda allowed a walk to Chas McCormick with two outs and Jose Altuve coming to the dish. The right-hander had to know that was a cardinal mistake, but just wasn’t spotting the fastball with the precision he has to have in order to pitch at lower velocities than most in the league.

Anyway, Maeda fell behind 3-0 and probably should’ve just walked Altuve at that point to pitch to Bregman. Instead, Maeda was mixing in every pitch he has trying to give as many different looks as possible. It didn’t matter, as a 3-1 cutter down in the zone got launched to left field for a three-run shot. 4-0 Astros.

The Tigers could do nothing with Blanco in the third or fourth inning, and were getting carved up with authority. Meanwhile, Maeda escaped the third with the help of a Yainer Diaz double play ball, and got another double play ball from Dubôn after walking Peña to open the bottom of the fourth inning.

It was only 4-0 through four frames, but the swings against Blanco weren’t promising. The Tigers really needed to scratch out a run or two and hope Maeda could squeak through another inning.

Blanco struck out Canha and Keith to start the top of the fifth, but his occasional control problems started to show in this inning. Gio Urshela and Akil Baddoo both drew walks, Baddoo spitting on a high changeup just off the plate with confidence. Carson Kelly took a first pitch fastball about four inches off the plate for strike one, but Blanco still couldn’t hit the mark as Kelly walked to load the bases. However, that left it to Zach McKinstry, who lifted a routine fly ball to center field to end the inning. Blanco’s spell was lifted to a degree, but the Tigers were still getting no-hit and down four with the top of the Astros lineup due to see Maeda a third time.

Maeda held his ground and pitched better as the game went on, perhaps shaking off the shot to the thigh. He got Chas McCormick and Altuve to ground out to start the bottom of the fifth and was locating in much more Kenta Maeda-like fashion, using all his pitches, throwing a lot of strikes without missing much over the middle of the plate. Alex Bregman saw everything and the kitchen sink in his AB, fouling off sliders and splitters galore. Maeda tried to go up with the fourseamer but Bregman wasn’t chasing up there. A 2-2 fastball, dialed up to 93 mph, got a fly out to right to end the inning.

Maeda continues to be an odd mystery bag of a pitcher. 5.0 IP, 4 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, K. He got much better as the outing progressed but continues to look, oddly uncomfortable out there as though he just can’t get loose and settle into a groove early in his starts. Like the signing. Hated the second year. Hopefully they can get him sorted it out. To a degree, this is how most of his seasons go. Some nagging injuries and a few stretches of good work. We need to see some of the latter.

The top of the Tigers’ order came up to face Blanco for the third time in the sixth, but they had no more success. Pérez, Vierling, and Greene all put the ball in play but couldn’t buy a hit.

Tyler Holton took over in the bottom of the sixth, and dispatched Yordan Alvarez, Yainer Diaz, and Jon Singleton in a snappy seven pitch frame.

Blanco entered the top of the seventh at around 80 pitches and with a no-hit bid intact. Canha grounded out to start the inning, but Colt Keith battled Blanco through a nine pitch AB that ended in a ground out, but also ensured that Blanco wouldn’t be in the game much longer. On a short day for the Astros bullpen, they really needed to get him out of their early, and just couldn’t get it down. Finally, with two outs, Gio Urshela pulled a grounder to third and a poor throw from Bregman allowed him to reach. It was charged an error however, so the Tigers were still hitless through 24 trips to the plate. Akil Baddoo made a bid, driving a fastball deep to center field, but McCormick was there to haul it in and turn the Tigers away again.

Holton threw a really good bottom of the seventh, showing off some really good fading changeups in a 1-2-3 including a strikeout of Dubôn.

Despite the no-no, Astros’ manager Joe Espada had seen enough from Blanco, sending Ryan Pressly to the mound in the top of the eighth. Carson Kelly and Zach McKinstry hit the ball well but both made outs. Finally, the lineup turned over and Wenceel Pérez ripped a single up the middle to finally put the first Tigers hit on the board. Unfortunately, Matt Vierling got an 0-2 hanger and lifted a high fly ball to shallow center field to end the inning.

Jason Foley hadn’t pitched since Tuesday, so he got the bottom of the eighth for the Tigers. He punched out McCormick for the first out, but then walked Altuve. Bregman lined out to Baddoo in left field, and that left it up to Alvarez. Altuve used the element of surprise to steal second with two outs and one of the game’s best sluggers at the plate, but Alvarez hit a sinker off the end of the bat to Vierling in center field to end the inning.

Josh Hader took the mound in the ninth, and so there was little hope of a shocking comeback. The lefty struck out Riley Greene to start the inning. Mark Canha ripped a single to center field, and Andy Ibáñez came on to pinch-hit for Colt Keith. Andy got a sinker down and in and ripped it off the wall in left for an RBI double. That ended the shutout, but the task left was still too tall for the Tigers. Urshela bounced out, and Jake Rogers struck out pinch-hitting to end the game.

Box Score

Things won’t get easier for the Tigers as they head to Atlanta for three with the Braves starting Monday night. They’ll have an off day on Thursday before returning to Detroit for a six game homestand against the White Sox and the Phillies.

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