The only saving grace to this game was the length, clocking in well under three hours. The Tigers were absolutely baffled by Cleveland’s Triston McKenzie all game long, losing to them 4-0 in the first of a four game set.
The matchup between Triston McKenzie and Elvin Rodriguez played out much as expected. The two pitchers have comparable stuff, but McKenzie is far ahead in terms of command, and the Guardians have a lot of solid contact hitters. The Tigers do not. While McKenzie mixed his fastball and breaking balls around the edges and down, Rodriguez struggled to get ahead of hitters, and failed to make pitches with traffic on the bases.
Both young starters spun a quick first inning, while Josh Naylor’s solo shot to right center field was the only damage done in the second. The Tigers continued to struggle with McKenzie in the third. Spencer Torkelson popped out, Akil Baddoo grounded out, and Riley Greene struck out. Not good, but it would get worse moments later.
Rodriguez fell behind Steven Kwan, worked his way back into the count, and then gave up a 3-2 double down the right field line. Amed Rosario followed with a single, and Rodriguez then fell behind Jose Ramirez before giving up a 3-0 single that scored Kwan. Chris Fetter came out for a chat, and they got Naylor to fly out to shallow left. Franmil Reyes was Rodriguez’s third strikeout victim, this time a checked swing on a slider just out of the zone.
The opportunity to stop the rally right there went by the wayside, as Rodriguez continued to struggle to spot anything consistently. He fell behind Andres Gimenez and broke out his rarely used changeup. Gimenez paddled it off the right field wall for a double that scored Rosario and moved Ramirez to third. A.J. Hinch issued a free pass to Nolan Jones to face catcher Austin Hedges with a force at every base. It worked out, but only barely. Hedges made really good contact on a first pitch slider, but fortunately his line drive was snared by Harold Castro at shortstop for the final out.
Meanwhile, the Tigers continued to be one of the few teams that cannot deal with McKenzie at all, getting a Harold Castro single and no more.
To his credit, Rodriguez settled in a bit after the shaky third. He surrendered a two-out double to Rosario in the fourth but got Jose Ramirez to ground out to first. In the fifth, Naylor made another bid to deep center field, but Riley Greene hauled it in on the warning track, and the Guardians went down in order, with Gimenez striking out on three pitches to end the inning.
The Tigers finally got a modicum of a threat together in the top of the sixth. Riley Greene struck out for the third time against McKenzie to leadoff, but Victor Reyes singled back up the middle. Harold Castro flew out, but Miguel Cabrera singled to move Reyes to third. Unfortunately, Eric Haase watched a first pitch fastball down the middle for a strike, and then whiffed on a second one, striking out to waste the chance.
Rodriguez walked Jones to open the bottom half of the sixth, but helped his cause by getting a double play ball back to him off the bat of Hedges. He fired to second, and Jonathan Schoop easily turned it over. It looked like Rodriguez would put up a respectable six innings of work, but then he fired four straight pitches wide of the mark to put Myles Straw on first. Hinch had seen enough and turned to Jason Foley, who got Kwan to ground out to end the inning.
Rodriguez finished with a line of 5.2 IP, 3 ER, 7 H, 4 BB, 4 SO, throwing 55 of 94 pitches for strikes. The stuff is willing, but he’s got to be much more consistent with all three of his primary offerings to survive in the bigs. At 24 years old, he’s still got a little time to figure out the next step.
Meanwhile, McKenzie only got stronger, his velocity ticking up into the mid-90’s late in his outing. He froze Candelario for strike three to open the seventh, and then got Schoop whiffing over the curveball, punching his ticket as well, with a total of only six pitches expended to do it. Torkelson flew out in foul territory down the right field line, and that looked like the end of McKenzie’s night.
Rosario singled up the middle against Foley to start the bottom of the seventh. Foley got Ramirez to lift a fly ball harmlessly to Baddoo in left, and threw over repeatedly to keep Rosario at first and the double play in order.
Terry Francona decided to stick with McKenzie in the eighth, running him well over 100 pitches, but hey why not? The Tigers can’t hit him anyway. The right-hander struck out Baddoo, and then easily punched out Greene again, who was entirely lost against him all game, striking him out for the fourth time. Reyes grounded out to end the inning, and once again the Tigers made McKenzie look like a Cy Young candidate, striking out 12 times, and arguably hitting the ball hard just twice the entire game.
Tyler Alexander took over in the bottom of the eighth and quickly surrendered a solo shot to Gimenez to make it 4-0. Since returning from the injured list in mid-June, Alexander has generally been a punching bag struggling to generate even his usual limited amount whiffs and weak contact, and surviving by the ground ball alone. He got Alex Call, pinch hitting for Jones, to ground out to shortstop, but Hedges ripped a single to left, and Myles Straw drew a walk to set things up for Steven Kwan. Kwan fouled off everything Alexander threw in the zone, battling him for 10 pitches before flying out to right field. Rosario was up next, and this time, in a 2-2 count, Alexander fired a cutter strike down the middle and he whiffed for strike three to end the inning.
That left the Tigers needing four to tie the game against closer Emmanuel Clase, and as you’d guess, that did not happen. Harold Castro, Cabrera, and Haase went in order to drop the first of four.