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Twins 4, Tigers 3: Ross struggles while the offense stays snakebitten

Ross wasn’t very good, but the Tigers drove a lot of hard hit balls into defenders’ gloves again.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Tyson Ross couldn’t command anything in the cold, and the Tigers offense continued to struggle with runners in scoring position. They fell 4-3 to the Twins on Saturday to move their record to 8-6 for the season.

Both starting pitchers got out to a solid start on a cold day in Minneapolis. Jeimer Candelario, batting second in place of the injured Nicholas Castellanos, hit a hard fly ball to right in the first inning that died well short of the warning track. Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco made a great play to snare a line shot off the bat of Miguel Cabrera. Michael Pineda settled in and was sharper in the second inning. There was less hard contact off of Ross as he did a nice job jamming Twins hitters with a mix of fastballs and cutters early to cruise through the first two frames.

In the third, Pineda began to labor. Grayson Greiner, Jordy Mercer, and JaCoby Jones started the inning with singles to load the bases with no outs. Jones’ single was a liner off umpire Chris Guccione at second base. The ball was ruled dead on impact, and Greiner, who had initially scored, was recalled to third base.

Josh Harrison cashed him in anyway with a sacrifice fly to Byron Buxton in center field. Jeimer Candelario then dropped a soft liner in front of Buxton, and Jordy Mercer got a great read and scored from second base. Miguel Cabrera drilled a liner the opposite way, but was again victimized by a fine running catch by right fielder Max Kepler. A Christin Stewart strikeout ended the inning, but the Tigers were up 2-0.

Looking for a shutdown inning to solidify the Tigers’ lead, Tyson Ross dug himself into a hole instead. Two walks to start the third inning set the table for Byron Buxton, who singled through the left side of the infield to score Jonathan Schoop. Max Kepler then drilled a hot shot through the right side to load the bases with no outs. The Twins were doing a nice job laying off the slider, and Ross was nibbling and missing with the harder stuff. Tigers pitching coach Rick Anderson had seen enough to warrant a visit to the mound.

Ross retired Jorge Polanco on a fly ball to Dustin Peterson in right field, but the sacrifice plated the tying run, and left runners at first and third for noted Tiger killer, Nelson Cruz. Ross and Cruz battled to a full count, but Ross blinked, pulling a cutter into the left-hander’s batter’s box to walk Cruz and load the bases again with one out. Eddie Rosario made him pay with a hot grounder past a diving Josh Harrison to score two, and put the Twins up 4-2. Ross looked mentally worked by this point, but did get C.J. Cron to fly out to JaCoby Jones in center field, and Jones cut down Rosario on a truly bone-headed attempt to advance, ending the inning.

Without Castellanos or Niko Goodrum, who was scratched with an illness, a challenged Tigers’ offense was hard-pressed to turn things around. And their luck wasn’t improving. John Hicks led off the fourth with a double, but Dustin Peterson struck out and Grayson Greiner smoked a line drive right into the glove of Schoop at second base. The Twins second baseman easily doubled off Hicks, who mistakenly broke for third, to end the top half of the inning. Ross did manage to rebound in the bottom half, getting a diving catch from Dustin Peterson in right field to retire the side in order.

The hard luck continued in the fifth. Jordy Mercer lined a one-hop double off the wall in left to lead off the fifth, but pulled up short coming around first base. Mercer was grabbing his quad and hopped his way to second base safely, with Gordon Beckham coming in to replace him. The Twins defense continued to bail out Pineda, however. JaCoby Jones smoked a hard grounder that Marwin Gonzalez snared at third base, and Josh Harrison followed with another line drive into Jorge Polanco’s glove at SS. Candelario flew out to end the fifth with another runner stranded at second.

Things finally started to open up for the Tigers in the sixth. Christin Stewart mashed his third home run, a solo shot to right field to close the gap to one run. It was a moonshot into the upper deck in right centerfield to make it 4-3 Twins.

Tyson Ross cleaned up the sixth inning to end his day with four walks and four runs allowed. Funny how that works. The Tigers got to work in the seventh with Trevor Hildenberger in relief of Pineda. After Gordon Beckham popped out, JaCoby Jones nailed his second line drive single of the day. He stole second and took third as the throw from home went into center field. The Tigers had the tying run at third with one out. However, Josh Harrison then grounded out routinely to third base and Jeimer Candelario struck out to strand Jones.

Perhaps the Tigers should just try not to notice when they have runners in scoring position, because they’ve been godawful in those circumstances, beyond what bad luck excuses.

Drew VerHagen made his first appearance of the season, and was wild, walking the first two batters he faced in the seventh. Ron Gardenhire quickly brought out the hook, turning to Daniel Stumpf to try and keep the game close. Stumpf proceeded to walk Max Kepler to load the bases with no outs. Fine work, gentlemen.

Stumpf fell behind Jorge Polanco, but recovered to strike him out with a 3-2 changeup away. Gardenhire then turned to Victor Alcantara with Nelson Cruz at the dish and the bases still yoked. Alcantara pounded Cruz inside, eliciting numerous stinging foul balls before finishing him off with a beautiful swing back fastball on the outer edge. He then fell behind Eddie Rosario 3-0 before rebounding to get him on a deep flyout to center field. Disaster averted. Barely.

The Tigers couldn’t get anything going offensively in the eighth, and Buck Farmer came on to shut down the Twins in the bottom half of the frame, bringing the Tigers to their last opportunity for a comeback. Gordon Beckham walked with one out, then scampered into scoring position on a wild pitch from Twins closer Blake Parker. JaCoby Jones struck out on a tough curveball right at the top of the zone, while Josh Harrison just flailed his way to a game-ending strikeout.

Notes and highlights

-Grayson Greiner gunned down Jorge Polanco trying to steal second in the fifth inning.

-JaCoby Jones was 2 for 3, with three hard hit balls and a stolen base in his second game back from the injured list.

-The offense needs Castellanos and Goodrum desperately, but Josh Harrison, leadoff man, continues to seem like a terrible idea.

-Everyone relax about Christin Stewart. His BABIP is ridiculously low, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is fine, and he does this.