The Detroit Tigers were flying high for most of the day. They won the first game of their doubleheader against the Kansas City Royals 3-2 thanks to a walk-off home run from JaCoby Jones in the 10th inning. The win was their fourth in a row, moving them to 8-9 after a rough week against Cleveland and New York left them five games under .500. A sacrifice fly from Jones in game two gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead that they took into the ninth inning, just three outs from a .500 record.
Then, the inning from hell happened. Closer Shane Greene allowed a pair of hits, just hours after tossing a scoreless inning in game one. Niko Goodrum was a split-second too slow to a weak grounder off the bat of Abraham Almonte that would have been the second out of the inning. Instead, Almonte blooped a single into right to score the tying run. Nicholas Castellanos, still in the game in right field, bobbled the ball, eliminating any chance of him throwing out the runner at home. Goodrum then botched a routine ground ball and airmailed Greene at first, scoring another Kansas City run to give them a 3-2 lead.
None of these errors were enough to cost the Tigers the game on their own. Even put together, it was only a two-run inning for Kansas City, one that the Tigers potentially could have weathered were they able to get to starter Jakob Junis earlier in the game. But, for the second time already this season, Junis dominated the Tigers lineup. He worked eight strong innings in this game, striking out four while allowing just four hits. His 2.03 ERA on the season now includes 15 innings against the Tigers with just two runs allowed.
The Tigers also had trouble with afternoon starter Jason Hammel. The 35-year-old veteran threw nine innings in game one, allowing two runs on five hits. Fortunately for Detroit, Michael Fulmer was up to the task; he gave up eight hits in seven innings, but only coughed up a pair of runs. Daniel Stumpf, Greene, and Joe Jimenez each threw scoreless innings out of the pen, and Jones lined a 2-2 fastball from Royals reliever Brad Keller into the bullpen to give the Tigers a 3-2 win.
Have a day, JaCoby Jones
It sounds like Mike Gerber was originally slated to start in center field in game two, but Jones’ productive afternoon earned him a second start in the nightcap. He went 3-for-6 on the day, and scored three of Detroit’s five runs. He also had three RBI on the day, including the game-winning home run in game one. All three of his hits went for extra bases. He also delivered a wonderfully candid interview after the walk-off homer, endearing him to Tigers fans looking for a young, exciting player to latch onto.
While this feels similar to his hot start in 2017, Jones is making the most of these early at-bats. He is now hitting .313/.395/.500 in 38 plate appearances this season, with eight strikeouts and three walks. Opposing pitchers will probably adjust soon — he’s still seeing a heavy dose of fastballs — but Jones is providing the type of energy the Tigers have lacked at times over the past few years.
Welcome back, Mr. Fulmer
It seems to have gotten lost between Jones’ early game heroics and the ninth inning meltdown in the nightcap, but Fulmer looked like his old self on Friday after a rough outing in Cleveland last week. He was sharp early, and finished with 68 strikes thrown on 96 pitches (a 71 percent rate). Most of the eight hits he allowed came late, potentially a consequence of not pitching for over a week. While the Royals don’t have a potent offense, Fulmer simply looked much better on the mound than he did against the Indians.
Let’s talk about Daniel Norris’ velocity
I’m not sure what’s going on with velocity readings this season, but they seem to be down across the board. Norris averaged just 89.5 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball in his 4 2⁄3 innings, and topped out at 91.3 mph. These numbers are according to Brooks Baseball, but the radar gun readings on the Fox Sports Detroit broadcast were mostly in this range. Norris still got a few whiffs with the four-seamer, including a couple at the top of the strike zone, but I’d be curious to hear why he isn’t lighting up the radar gun like in years past. We’re seeing a similar phenomenon with Matthew Boyd right now, and it has me (and other Tigers fans, I imagine) quite puzzled.
There were some puzzling managerial decisions
Here are a few of Ron Gardenhire’s decisions I disagreed with, in random order.
- Pinch-running for Miguel Cabrera at first base in a tie game
- Using Shane Greene in both games
- Leaving Nicholas Castellanos in right field with a late-inning lead
- Letting Victor Reyes hit in the ninth with Mike Gerber on the bench
- Not starting Gerber in the first place
None of these things are particularly heinous, and I probably feel the strongest about the first two. Greene only threw 12 pitches in game one, so it’s not completely ridiculous that he was brought back. But with such a quick inning under his belt, I’m surprised Greene didn’t just pitch the 10th inning in game one. I would have rather seen Gardenhire go with a fresh arm in the ninth inning of game two, but it’s not like Drew VerHagen has inspired much confidence this season. Pinch-running for Cabrera irks a little more, if only because Goodrum didn’t even attempt to steal second base. But these should be viewed as talking points, not torch-and-pitchfork-worthy violations of how we think the game should have been managed.
But, to balance things out, I think Gardenhire pulled Norris at the right time in game two, and am happy he didn’t let Norris dangle out there in hopes of “getting him the win.” Letting Jones play again after a strong first game was also a nice move.
Who was the Tigers’ Player of the Day?
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