The battle of the Daniels wasn’t exactly a barnburner, but both pitching staffs held up under fire, and the Tigers’ bullpen and a late sacrifice fly were the difference on Wednesday night.
The Tigers got on board first, with new leadoff man JaCoby Jones drawing a walk to lead off the game, and eventually scoring on a Miguel Cabrera sacrifice fly. In the bottom half of the frame, Daniel Norris established a pattern of digging holes and then bearing down to extricate himself that would carry him through five innings of two-run ball.
It wasn’t easy.
Right out of the shoot, Norris got a loud out from Whit Merrifield and then plunked that crafty old ball magnet himself, Alex Gordon with a 2-2 heater. Adalberto Mondesi singled, and then the pair pulled off a double steal on Norris and Hicks. And after looking a bit ragged for a few batters, suddenly Norris carved up Jorge Soler on three pitches and then punched Kelvin Gutierrez’s ticket as well to escape the inning.
Norris came into the game with just three stolen bases against him this season, and with two pickoffs to his credit, but the Royals can run and they were determined to do so. They snagged four bags against the Norris-Hicks battery in total on the night.
Norris got three outs on routine ground balls in the second, but his pitch count was rising rapidly as he struggled through a tough third inning. He allowed a leadoff double to Whit Merrifield, who promptly stole third base, and then lost his rhythm for much of the frame. He fought through it and made a couple of key pitches when he needed them. Norris got Gordon to flyout to left, and then punched out Mondesi with a perfect back foot slider to record the second out of the inning. However Soler lashed a double up the left field gap to plate Merrifield and tie the game. Norris walked Gutierrez, and the game felt like it was potentially hanging in the balance as he got Ryan O’Hearn to roll over on a slider for an easy groundout to escape.
The Tigers’ lineup was faring similarly against Danny Duffy. They stranded a runner in scoring position in the second and third innings before breaking through for a go-ahead run in the fourth on back-to-back doubles from John Hicks and Ronny Rodriguez. Norris came on and promptly struck out the side, but then leaked a few singles in the fifth to allow the Royals to tie things up again.
Duffy settled in from there cruising in the sixth and seventh innings, while Nick Ramirez came on for the good guys and gave the Tigers a pair of scoreless innings as well. They took advantage in the eighth, with Jones again leading the way with another key walk against reliever Jake Diekman. Christin Stewart followed with a double and the Tigers then loaded the bases when Nick Castellanos drew a walk. After Miguel Cabrera struck out, Brandon Dixon came through with a sacrifice fly to the wall in the right field corner. Jones scampered home with the eventual game winner.
Joe Jimenez had a solid outing, which must have felt good, and Shane Greene had no issues either, stranding a two-out single from Mondesi to earn his American League leading 20th save of the season.
-The Tigers and Royals combined for 28 LOBsters tonight. Duffy and Norris both bore down well under pressure, but these are some unimpressive lineups.
-Nick Ramirez allowed three baserunners in his two innings of work. Two were walks. But he also struck out a pair, got plenty of soft contact, and has been a godsend to Ron Gardenhire so far.
-In “JaCoby breakout watch” news, Jones came into tonight’s game with an 8.5 percent walk rate since May 1. Obviously he’s been mashing but he’s also swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone, and taking a few more walks. He drew two more free passes tonight out of the leadoff spot and scored both times.