The Tigers have not gotten off to the start that many anticipated, but there’s still time to turn it around. Beating the Dodgers late Saturday night behind a solid outing from rookie Beau Brieske was just what the doctor ordered to stop a six-game losing streak, but would it also be the start of a new winning streak? The answer: no.
In one of the more frustrating performances of the season—which is saying something—the Tigers dropped the finale of their series at Chavez Ravine by a final score of 6-3. The offense squandered the opportunities it had and couldn’t catch up, the defense booted the ball around like a junior varsity squad, and Eduardo Rodríguez couldn’t make the big pitches he needed in an all-around sloppy afternoon.
Rodríguez, who the Tigers gave a five-year contract to this offseason — there are opt-outs but it doesn’t look like we’ll have to worry about those — actually had a pretty solid outing by box score standards. Over 5 2⁄3 innings, he only allowed two earned runs on eight hits while striking out five and walking none. Unfortunately, six runs were scored on him due to multiple fielding errors made by the left side of the infield. In these situations, Rodríguez made the pitches he needed and got ground balls that should have been outs. Unfortunately, as has been the case since arriving in Detroit, he wasn’t able to make enough of the pitches he needed and the Dodgers took full advantage.
The Dodgers got on the board right away courtesy of a Will Smith RBI single that scored Mookie Betts in the first inning. The second is where the wheels really started to come off for the team. After allowing two singles wedged between an out, Rodríguez got a ground ball to third off the bat of Betts that looked like a tailor-made double-play ball that would end the inning. Jeimer Candelario, who has had a run of uncharacteristic trouble on relatively routine plays at the hot corner this season, bobbled the ball trying to exchange it from his glove to his throwing hand and instead pivoted to make the throw to first. His throw pulled Harold Castro, who was spelling Spencer Torkelson in the lineup, off the bag and allowed a run to score.
Instead of being out of the inning with no runs, the Dodgers had climbed ahead 2-0 with still only one out and former NL MVP Freddie Freeman at the plate. Here is where as a pitcher you need to shake off the error and bear down on what you can control. Rodríguez is not a power pitcher. He relies on commanding the zone, freezing hitters around the edges, and getting ground balls turned into outs behind him. So far this season, he has not been hitting his spots and that’s what happened against Freeman to blow the inning open. In a full count, Rodríguez grooved an 84 mph slider right down broadway that Freeman hit to the fence in left-center field, scoring two runs to put the Dodgers ahead, 4-0.
An RBI double by Cody Bellinger in the sixth added to the Dodgers' lead, and then an error on Javier Báez on a ground ball up the middle that went under his glove allowed him to score their sixth run of the afternoon. That ball off the bat of Gavin Lux ended Rodríguez’s day. While Rodríguez is not fully to blame for Sunday’s mess, it remains concerning that his command seems to be missing. He hit a groove for a few innings on Sunday and briefly looked like the E-Rod we were expecting, but it was too little too late. It’s also worth mentioning that he’s currently in the bottom 8% of the league in allowed exit velocity, whereas he’s been in the top 10% the last two seasons.
The Tigers made Walker Buehler work in the early innings of the game, but couldn’t scratch across any runs against him. In the first inning, they put two base runners on and then loaded the bases in the second without anything to show for it. Buehler threw quite a few pitches but was able to work out of the jams, showcasing the resolve that makes him a popular pick for the NL Cy Young award. He left the game after only five innings due to a high pitch count.
The offense was lifeless until the eighth inning when Báez broke the streak of 13 straight Tigers batters making outs by leading off the inning with a double. With one out in the inning, Miguel Cabrera launched his first home run of the season, a two-run shot to left-center field off of a slider from Phil Bickford.
The Tigers amazingly brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning, only to squander the opportunity just as they did in the early innings. Candelario led off with his first home run of the season, a line drive to left field off of Justin Bruihl to pull Detroit to within three. A one-out pinch-hit double off the bat of Willi Castro knocked Bruihl out of the game, and then a two-out walk to Báez off of Craig Kimbrel brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Austin Meadows. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. Meadows popped up the first pitch of the at-bat and the Tigers would be handed their 14th loss of the season. A 7-14 start to the year is going to require a serious May turnaround.
Some additional notes to add include Robbie Grossman exiting the game in the second inning after being hit in the right hand by a 93 mph cutter from Buehler. He stayed in to run but was removed in the bottom half of the inning and replaced by Eric Haase in left field. No word yet on the extent of Grossman’s injury, but the last thing the Tigers need right now is another injury. Reported initially as a contusion, Grossman will hopefully miss no time, but we’ll have to wait to see if that holds up. Andrew Chafin worked a scoreless inning striking out two as he continues to work his way back into a late-inning bullpen role. Finally, the Tigers allowed two unearned runs today (and a bit more due to sloppy play) and lost the game by three. Funny how baseball works.