The Detroit Tigers came into Tropicana Park looking to keep A.J. Hinch’s perfect 9-0 Opening Day record intact. They failed. Eduardo Rodriguez pitched pretty well, but some shaky bullpen work and squandered chances offensively sunk their chances as they fell 4-0.
The first two innings passed briskly in a duel of southpaw starters. Both Shane McClanahan and Eduardo Rodriguez stranded a single in the first. In the second, a one-out double sliced into the left field corner put Austin Meadows on second base with one out. Miguel Cabrera quickly bounced out, with Meadows staying put at second. Jonathan Schoop battled through a long AB, fouling off plenty of 98-99 mph fastballs along the way. Eventually the hard-throwing lefty got Schoop to bite on a tight breaking ball sweeping down and in for a swinging strike three. Rodriguez issued a walk to Brandon Lowe in the bottom of the second, but otherwise tossed a quick inning.
The Tigers managed another scoring opportunity in the third, but it came with two outs. Javier Báez drew a walk, reaching base for the second time in the game. Then Riley Greene slapped a little chopper to the right side that went for an infield single. Unfortunately, Eric Haase lifted a towering pop-up for the third out.
Having stranded two runners at second, the Rays capitalized in the bottom of the third when Jose Siri smoked a 1-1 cutter down the middle for a solo shot to left field. Rodriguez had generally had good command to that point, dealing from the third base side of the rubber, but that mistake cost him. He bounced back to strike out Yandy Diaz on a well located cutter for a called third strike, and then got Wander Franco and Isaac Paredes to ground out. E-Rod was through three innings in 44 pitches, with two strikeouts to one walk, but the Siri home run was the difference to this point.
After a Torkelson ground out up the middle to lead off the fourth inning, Meadows drilled a grounder back up the middle for a single, his second hit of the game. Cabrera followed with a double play ball to Lowe, but Diaz clanged the throw coming in from second and had to scramble to pick it up. Cabrera was called out, the Tigers video booth declined to challenge, and that was that.
Rodriguez’s command was pretty sharp throughout his outing, and he pounded the Rays’ right-handed hitters inside with precision, mixing the occasional cutter in there with the fourseamer and expanded away with the changeup and a few backdoor cutters. He racked up two quick pop-outs to open the bottom of the fourth, and then dusted Manuel Margot swinging through a heater for his third strikeout, ending the frame.
At this point McClanahan’s command tightened up to match his high octane stuff. He quickly blew Jonathan Schoop away to open the fifth, and then got Ryan Kreidler swinging over a nasty changeup for strike three. Matt Vierling lifted a fly ball to right field to end the top half. McClanahan was at 79 pitches at that point, so they hadn’t quite managed to work counts enough to get him out of there.
Rodriguez struck out Brandon Lowe to open the bottom of the fifth, freezing him with a perfect fastball on the outer edge. Christian Betancourt flew out to Riley Greene in center field for the second out. That brought up Jose Siri again, but Rodriguez worked away from the fastball with cutters and changeups. He had Siri swinging out of his shoes whiffing on a cutter for E-Rod’s fifth punchout. He was at 72 pitches, and looking pretty darn good.
That didn’t help the Tigers’ hitters handle McClanahan, however. The lefty dusted Báez for the first out of the sixth, and a deep fly out to center from Riley Greene followed. A missed with his curveball and then changeup saw McClanahan fall behind 2-0 to Eric Haase. He blazed a fastball down the middle instead, and Haase whacked a line drive right to Siri in center field. Some good swings, but no dice.
After a lot of strike-throwing through five innings, Rodriguez missed his mark repeatedly to open the sixth, putting Diaz on with a leadoff walk. Taylor Walls entered the game to run for Diaz. Wander Franco saw a little more wildness from Rodriguez, getting ahead 3-1, but he got jammed by a cutter and weakly lined out to Meadows in left for the first out of the frame. Paredes lined E-Rod’s 88th pitch to center, putting runners on first and second for Randy Arozarena with one out. A.J. Hinch decided that was enough for Opening Day, and called for Jason Foley out of the bullpen hoping for a double play ball. He didn’t get it.
A pretty lukewarm slider middle and down was swatted back through the box for a single to score Diaz. Rays’ manager Kevin Cash turned to Luke Raley, a left-handed hitter, in place of DH Harold Ramirez, looking to add on runs. Raley grounded a single past Schoop for another single, scoring Paredes. Foley did get Margot to ground into a double play to get out of any further trouble, but he’d allowed both inherited runners to score, and it was 3-0 Rays.
Rodriguez finished with 5.1 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 5 SO for a decent enough first start of the season. He didn’t get any help from Foley, but the fatal walk of the leadoff hitter was the real key to the inning. The Tigers’ offense didn’t get the leadoff hitter on base once in the game.
McClanahan’s day was done as well. Cash turned to lefty Colin Poche to start the seventh inning. He collected two quick outs against Torkelson and Meadows, but Cabrera ripped a fastball to left for a double, tying Ichiro Suzuki in the process for 23rd all-time in hits. He got a nice round of applause from the crowd.
Jonathan Schoop followed by drawing a walk, and it was up to Ryan Kreidler, who got the start at third base. The Tigers utilityman isn’t known for his power, but he’s done a lot of his damage in the minor leagues against left-handers, so Poche was a good matchup for him. Kreidler put a good swing on a fastball, driving it the opposite way on a line, but Margot made a really nice diving catch to prevent a two-run triple. The Tigers came away with nothing.
Hinch turned to veteran lefty Chasen Shreve in the bottom of the seventh. He dusted Brandon Lowe with a really wicked splitter for the first out. He walked Betancourt, but came back to punch out Siri with a riding fastball for the second out of the inning. That left it up to Taylor Walls, who grounded out to Báez to end the inning.
The Tigers still had six outs to work with, but against the Rays’ bullpen and needing three runs just to tie thing up, they were up against it.
Recently acquired utilityman Zach McKinstry entered the game in place of Vierling to lead off the eighth against Jason Adam. The matchup didn’t work out as the left-handed hitter grounded out in his first Tigers’ at-bat. Báez followed with a fly out. Riley Greene drew a four pitch walk with two outs, but Haase got jammed and fisted a blooper to Franco at shortstop for the final out. McKinstry stayed in the game in right field.
The bottom of the eighth saw Tigers’ Rule 5 selection Mason Englert make his major league debut. The right-hander hadn’t pitched above Double-A in the Texas Rangers system, and he was greeted rudely by Wander Franco, who cranked a solo shot to left center field to make it 4-0 Rays. Englert smiled ruefully. Welcome to the big leagues, kid. But he settled in to clean up the inning. They were on to the top of the ninth and the Tigers’ last chance against a really tough reliever in Pete Fairbanks.
We hadn’t really seen anything interesting from the new rules to this point, other than the fact that teams are still going to shift as aggressively as possible within the new confines. However, the game reached the ninth inning in just 2:08, which is a really brisk pace. It’s not like someone was tossing a one-hitter out there. The pitch clock era has arrived. As it turned out, the game would end in 2:14.
Spencer Torkelson led off the ninth, grounding out to shortstop. Meadows followed with a sharp grounder through the right side for a single. Unfortunately, Cabrera popped up a fastball on the first pitch of his at-bat, and that left it up to pinch-hitter Nick Maton, stepping in for Schoop to get the lefty-righty matchup. Maton got up 2-0, then took a big rip at a slider for strike one. Another slider dropped in to even the count, and Maton grounded back to Fairbanks for the final out of the game.
Not a ton of positives on display other than a three hit game from Meadows. Eduardo Rodriguez threw a solid game. Chasen Shreve looked good. The Tigers just didn’t get the leadoff man on often enough to manufacture runs, and the Rays outslugged them with a pair of home runs.
Spencer Turnbull takes on RHP Zach Eflin on Saturday with first pitch set for 4:10 pm in the east.