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Astros 3, Tigers 2: Miggy hits double No. 600, bullpen blows E-Rod’s first strong outing

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “The Tigers walk into Houston and lose a ballgame, 3-2.”

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

No, it’s not Groundhog Day. The Detroit Tigers are just very bad and somehow managed to lose a game by the same score against the same opponent for a third-consecutive game. The Houston Astros secured the series win over the Tigers on Saturday by the familiar score of 3-2, and Detroit will need to break whatever curse was put upon them on Sunday to avoid the sweep.

In Friday’s loss, the offense was to blame after mustering just two hits, but this time it was the Tigers’ bullpen at fault. Michael Fulmer looked nothing like the shutdown reliever he’s been all season and painfully walked in the winning run in the bottom of the eighth.

It was an ugly end to what looked like the first game in a while where things would go in Detroit’s favor. The Tigers squandered two early opportunities to score, leaving a man on third in each of the first two innings, but Miguel Cabrera opened things up in the top of the third with a historic double — No. 600 of his Hall of Fame career. He joins Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols as the only players in MLB history to amass 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and 600 doubles. Only Aaron and Cabrera also hold a career .300 or better batting average.

Javier Báez and Robbie Grossman scored on the play and gave Eduardo Rodríguez a much-appreciated lead going into the bottom of the third. E-Rod started the inning by carving up Chas McCormick and Maritn Maldonado with a steady mix of cutters and fastballs on the outer third of the plate for a pair of strikeouts. He made a mistake against Jose Altuve, though, and hung a changeup that was sent 386 feet into the left-field stands.

Rodríguez settled down after that and held the one-run lead into the seventh inning. Altuve threatened a second dinger in the sixth, but it didn’t have enough juice and carried into foul territory and out of play. Rodríguez won the battle with a sinker above the zone and got his season-high seventh strikeout of the night.

Detroit’s newest No. 1 has been fairly placed under the microscope after an ugly performance against Los Angeles Dodgers (5.2 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER) on May Day. Rodríguez has lacked the command that made him so effective in Boston, as recently discussed in our latest analysis piece discussing the lefty’s struggles. Walks haven’t necessarily been an issue for him, but he’s putting the ball in hittable spots that don’t match up with where he liked to put it during his periods of success.

Command wasn’t a problem on Saturday afternoon in Houston, though.

Rodríguez had his best start as a Tiger going 6 23 innings and striking out eight along the way. The Altuve homer and a trio of walks are the only blemishes on his record. That third walk is what brought A.J. Hinch out to the mound in the seventh for a conversation that ultimately ended with Rodríguez turning over the ball to Michael Fulmer after 99 pitches thrown.

Jeremy Peña extended the inning with a single up the middle that ate up Jonathan Schoop, but Fulmer got McCormick to fly out to right. Fulmer’s luck didn’t hold into the eighth as he surrendered a game-tying triple to Michael Brantley. It only got worse from there. Fulmer walked the bases loaded —one walk was intentional— and couldn’t buy a strike. Hinch left him in though, and Fulmer gave up the lead on another free pass. That brought in Alex Lange who struck out Peña to end the inning, but the momentum was shot at the point.

A 1-2-3- top of the ninth closed out the afternoon, and ended any chances of a series split with Astros for the Tigers.

It’s a disappointing loss, but there’s plenty to like about what the Tigers managed to do on Saturday. E-Rod needed to come into his own to warrant the $77 million deal he signed in the offseason, Miggy continued to rewrite the record books with another milestone and several role players had promising nights at the plate.

Derek Hill made the most of his seventh start of the season going 3-for-5, although none of those ended up turning into anything productive. Spencer Torkelson returned to the lineup after sitting out on Friday to get his mind right at the plate. The rookie immediately broke a 0-for-14 slump with a single to the right side in his first at-bat of the night. He’d strike out in his next at-bat and line out on a missile hit just in reach of a leaping Yuli Gurriel off of first base. If he can keep barreling the ball like that on light swings, Tork should have no problem raising his average.

Of course, there’s the bad to look at too. Detroit’s strength this season has been its bullpen. Losing that now would wipe away what little hope is left for this team to salvage things and put together a successful season. They’ve perhaps already wasted some early season overperformance. Then, there’s the offense. Putting together 11 hits is nice, but not when the team finishes 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position.