We’ve seen the feeble 2019 Tigers rise up and play some better baseball lately. We’ve also seen some pretty weird games. Friday’s matchup with the Twins combined both elements in delightful fashion as the Tigers won convincingly by a score of 9-6.
Ol’ Dutch was on the mound for the men in black tonight, which is to say that it’s Players’ Weekend, and Drew VerHagen got the start for the Tigers. He was more recognizable in the early going, as Nelson Cruz doubled in a run in the first, and Miguel Sano mashed a laser of a home run to left center field in the second inning.
However, from that point we saw the best version of VerHagen that has ever existed. Bending his 85 mph slider and 77 mph curveball out of the same slot, with similar break, the tall right-hander turned into an ace for the next four innings, ending his night with 11 strikeouts. He’d never recorded more than six in any start in the majors. VerHagen did allow a solo home run by Jake Cave—Caveman, of course—in the fifth, but that was the only blemish the rest of the way as he punched out the side twice in the contest.
The Tigers responded to this performance by getting the lead back before VerHagen exited.
Dawel Lugo came through with a line drive to right field to score Harold Castro in the top of the sixth inning. Travis Demeritte worked a tough count into a walk, and Ronny Rodriguez then hooked a missile around the foul pole in left field for a grand slam that made it 5-3 Tigers.
Ronny Rodriguez hit a grand slam for the Tigers. pic.twitter.com/OTtd22RARQ— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) August 24, 2019
Jose Cisnero got two quick outs, but then melted down rapidly into a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh, and things got weird. The Tigers were caught off-guard, desperately trying to get Buck Farmer warmed up in the bullpen. Cisnero missed up with his first pitch to Jorge Polanco, and Ron Gardenhire came flying—relatively speaking—out of the dugout to make the pitching change in the middle of the at-bat. You don’t see that often.
Farmer must have appreciated this extra special challenge, because he got Polanco to pop out to escape the jam. Unfortunately, he came back out in the eighth and ultimately surrendered a two-run bomb to Sano. That made it 7-5, because the Tigers had wisely added on runs in the top of the frame. It was Harold Castro who surprisingly came through with a two-run double up the right center field gap to score Rodriguez and Reyes.
After Farmer’s rough eighth inning, the Tigers saw that even more was required. Dawel Lugo singled to lead off the top of the ninth, and Brandon Dixon followed with a double. That left it to Demeritte, who flicked a single to right field to score both runners. 9-5 Tigers.
Joe Jimenez didn’t have a good ninth inning, allowing a solo shot to Cave, but eventually managed to slam the door shut in a non-save situation.
-Drew VerHagen and his Gumby wrist had everything in sync for long stretches tonight. When that happens, VerHagen can really tease you with some outstanding stuff. It was impressive watching him put it all together, if only it would last.
-Travis Demeritte continues to impress with his consistent, professional at-bats. He singled twice and drew a walk, and even his outs included a pair of line drives right at Twins’ outfielders.
-Even in a victory, this bullpen will still scare the heck out of you. The Tigers have a really interesting collection of guys with stuff available to them out of the pen next season as the prospects advance and presumably push some of the lesser guys to the bullpen, but Rick Anderson has got to start earning his keep by helping a couple of them find consistent fastball command.
-Jake Rogers struck out twice and continues to look quite lost at the plate over the past week.
I suppose the idea with the black and white Players’ Weekend unis was to wash out the team colors, and let the players’ personalities shine through. At least, I imagine that was the memo from the design team, but eh...not really into it guys.