Well, after their Opening Day drubbing, the Detroit Tigers looked better on Saturday, despite the lineup getting dominated by another good Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher. The Tigers weathered the Luis Castillo storm, and ultimately took down the Reds 6-4 in a battle of bullpens.
The Tigers seized their first lead of the season right out of the gate. A soft serve single off the bat of Jonathan Schoop set up C.J. Cron after a Miguel Cabrera punch out. Cron drilled one down the left field line into the corner for a stand up double while Schoop scampered home for a first inning lead.
The Reds got it right back when Joey Votto homered for the second day in a row. He took Ivan Nova deep to right field to tie things up. Nova promptly gave up a two-run shot to Freddy Galvis in the second frame and fans were wincing, expecting another blowout.
It didn’t help that the lineup was pretty helpless against Reds’ ace Luis Castillo. Mercifully he only went six innings, because his high-90’s heat and devastating changeup wreaked havoc on Tigers hitters. Castillo cruised most of the outing, punching out 11 Tigers, including three bad-look at-bats by Miguel Cabrera.
Nova meanwhile settled in and fed Niko Goodrum and Jonathan Schoop a steady diet of groundballs to work through five frames. Tyler Alexander handed the sixth with the help of his catcher Austin Romine, who gunned down Nick Castellanos trying to steal after a one-out single.
Inspired by his first runner caught stealing on the year, Romine led off the seventh with a solo shot to left field off Castillo’s replacement, Robert Stephenson. JaCoby Jones followed by dumping a broken bat single into centerfield. Two batters later, with the Reds having turned to hard-throwing right-hander Michael Lorenzen, Miguel Cabrera turned on a 3-2 fastball at the top of the zone and crushed number 478 just inside the left field foul pole to give the Tigers a one-run lead.
Unfortunately, trying to stretch Tyler Alexander a second frame did not work out well. Former Tigers’ prospect, and nascent Tiger-killer, Curt Casali, mashed a solo shot to center field to tie things up while sorrow and much gnashing of teeth swept the Tigers’ fanbase.
Amir Garrett and Buck Farmer spun scoreless eighth innings, though Farmer had to survive a dropped throw at second by Jonathan Schoop that extended the inning and put a runner at third with two outs. Farmer was able to get Galvis to ground out to shortstop to escape the threat, and we headed to the ninth knotted at four apiece.
Austin Romine again sparked a rally with a solid single through the right side of the infield. Dawel Lugo came on to pinch-run, and the prospect of some hot small ball action no doubt had Ron Gardenhire and his staff quite excited. Predictably, they had Jones attempt to sacrifice Lugo to second and he failed to do so. In this scenario, bunting is a least somewhat acceptable, though with this offense giving up outs still seems a very dicey proposition. Jones, in a mood of pure acceptance of the moment, calmly wasted two strikes fouling off bunt attempts, and earned his freedom to swing for the fences. He then mashed a 2-2 heater deep to left-center to give the Tigers a 6-4 lead, and a spirit of joy and reconciliation swept Tigertown.
There was only one test left to pass. Joe Jimenez looked very sketchy, but managed to escape the inning unscathed to earn his first save of the young season.
The Tigers hold a .500 record on July 25th. Who would’ve believed it was possible?
Miguel Cabrera moving to 30th all time in Major League home runs whilst the two buffoons in the booth fumble the call. pic.twitter.com/fs1HPBCqmT— Jed (@TigersJUK) July 25, 2020
-Niko Goodrum was chewed up a bit by a hard groundball early in this one, but also put together quite a few nice plays and hit the ball hard twice. Early returns as Tigers’ shortstop are fairly promising.
-Ivan Nova does his job, which is simply to not melt down in any given inning and let his defense work. He did so, but we’ll feel better when he’s handling middle relief behind Daniel Norris or Casey Mize, thank you very much. In that role his ability to give you multiple decent innings on short notice would be invaluable to a young rotation.
-Miguel Cabrera looked terrible against Luis Castillo, but most hitters do. The deception and running life on Castillo’s high 90’s cheese and change combo is very difficult to handle. It was fortunate he came out of the game in time for the Tigers to stage a comeback.
Cabrera’s home run was the 478th of his illustrious career, and with it he passed Adrian Beltre for 30th all-time in homers. His two RBI took him to 1696 and past Cal Ripken for 25th all-time on the RBI leaderboard.
-CJ Cron is looking every bit as good as expected, and our only regret is that the Tigers didn’t lock him into a two or three-year deal. He may prove a bit of a trade chip at the deadline in just over a month.
-The bullpen...well, it’s clearly a Tigers bullpen, but there’s a better crop of arms and stuff down there than we’ve seen in a good while. There is some potential on the taxi squad as well. If a few guys can put it together in terms of location, there is a solid unit possible. They’re going to be sorely tested as the starters stretch out, however. Hopefully Gardenhire is able to apply them effectively.