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Tigers 2, Guardians 1: Bullpen outlasts Triston McKenzie, while Harold homers again

Another tough day at the plate, but the Tigers were buoyed by a pair of home runs and good efforts from the bullpen and defense.

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Unbelievably, it was another day filled with minor injuries for the Detroit Tigers. However, they persevered in this one, riding home runs from Harold Castro and Jeimer Candelario while the bullpen locked down Cleveland to win 2-1 on Sunday.

Guardians’ starter Triston McKenzie has been a real Tiger killer in his brief career, and Sunday would be no different. The difference, was that Elvin Rodriguez and the Tigers bullpen were able to shut down Cleveland with a little defensive help.

Both starters exchanged clean first innings, and while each team got a man on in the second inning, nothing approaching a real threat came to pass. Spencer Torkelson drew a one out walk in the bottom of the second, but was thrown out trying to steal second as Willi Castro struck out in what was presumably a blown hit and run.

The action remained pretty limited in the third and into the bottom of the fourth when Hammerin’ Harold Castro struck again. A McKenzie slider that hung up too much was smacked the opposite way, just clearing the wall in left. The ball rattled around back onto the field quickly, causing some initial confusion, but the right call was ultimately registered, and the Tigers led 1-0.

The injury bug struck early in this one as Robbie Grossman, in the designated hitter spot as Miguel Cabrera was already out with lower back tightness, was pulled for Jeimer Candelario. In the top of the fifth, Rodriguez threw a couple of warm up pitches and had to signal the training staff with a lower body injury, and walked off the field limping slightly. A.J. Hinch, no doubt cursing the Fates, had to turn to Wily Peralta to take over.

Peralta pitched around a pair of singles, recording a pair of ground ball outs to keep the Guardians off the board in the top of the fifth, but McKenzie continued to carve up the Tigers in the bottom half of the inning, recording his fifth and sixth strikeouts of the afternoon with a pitch count still under 60 through five innings.

Alex Lange came on in the sixth and continued to dominate, sandwiching a pair of quick outs around a strikeout of the ever-dangerous Jose Ramirez. Other than a couple pitchers, it’s been amazing how good this bullpen has performed this season overall, and none better than Lange.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Tigers could still only muster a single hit against McKenzie, although there were a few at’em balls along the way. However, the sole hit recorded was this missile off a hanging curveball to Jeimer Candelario.

Lange got Oscar Gonzalez to strikeout to open the top of the seventh, and Hinch then went to Andrew Chafin with a few lefties coming up. Unfortunately, Andres Gimenez hit Chafin’s first pitch the opposite way for a single, and Terry Francona pinch-hit Owen Miller in for Richie Palacios. Miller stroked a line drive single to center as Gimenez advanced to third. Luke Maile lifted a fly ball to to center field and Gimenez tagged and scored to make it 2-1 before Steven Kwan grounded out sharper to Javy Báez for the final out of the inning.

Once again, the Tigers went quickly against McKenzie in the bottom of the seventh, and his pitch count remained in ridiculously good shape. Michael Fulmer came on in the top of the eighth and immediately got some help from his defense. Myles Straw smoked a ground ball to Báez’s left and the Tigers shortstop was able to snare it, get to his feet and make a strong throw. That throw was pretty wide of first and Torkelson made a heck of a stretch and scoop, getting his big toe on the bag just long enough to record the out, which was confirmed by replay review on a Guardians’ challenge.

The very next play saw Daz Cameron go deep into the right center field gap and lay out to grab a drive from Myles Straw that had extra bases written all over it. Fulmer continues to struggle with his command, and he then walked Jose Ramirez—not necessarily a bad idea in any scenario—and bounced back finally to strike out Josh Naylor after a lot of loud contact and stress for a scoreless inning without much traffic.

The Tigers got a little threat together in the bottom of the eighth. Eric Haase singled with one out, and after Derek Hill struck out again against McKenzie, Candelario reached on an error by Ramirez. That finally ended McKenzie’s day as Francona turned to Bryan Shaw. The veteran right-hander got Schoop to ground into a force out to end the inning.

That left things up to Gregory Soto, and while he remains more effectively wild than really in control, he’s still incredibly tough to hit. Soto punched out Oscar Gonzalez after falling behind, and Willi Castro was able to haul in a line drive off Gimenez’s bat. Owen Miller singled to right with Cameron diving and just barely knocking the ball down from bouncing past him. Miller had already turned aggressively to go to second and had to slam on the brakes and hurry back to first. It mattered not at all, as Maile flew out routinely to Derek Hill in center, and the Tigers had taken 2 of 3 in the series. We can’t exactly call it a series win, as Friday’s game will be made up in July, but at this point we’ll take the victories as they come.

The Tigers now welcome in the Minnesota Twins for five games in four days, with a Tuesday doubleheader on tap. On Monday at 1:10 p.m. EDT, RHP Beau Brieske will duel RHP Dylan Bundy. Last time out, on May 24 against the Twins in Target Field, Brieske allowed two runs in four innings of work, but needed 90 pitches to do it. Hopefully his command is sharper this time out.

Overall, another pretty impressive performance today from Elvin Rodriguez. The high spin stuff is good, and his command has been improving. Hopefully the cramp isn’t anything major. His final line today was 4 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 4 SO. The pitching talent continues to be in abundance despite the incredible amount of injuries.

As for Robbie Grossman, he left the game with neck spasms, which isn’t terribly surprising as he hasn’t looked quite right all year to date. After a groin strain at the beginning of the season, the veteran outfielder has yet to find his groove at the plate. However, until Austin Meadows and Riley Greene arrive, the Tigers don’t have much with which to replace Grossman should he need some time off.