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Blue Jays 4, Tigers 3 (10): This bullpen is a menace

The Tigers wasted a good Eduardo Rodriguez start as the bullpen remains a huge hole in the roster.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers played another pretty solid seven innings, but the bullpen blew a lead once again and they eventually lost in the tenth inning to fall to 2-9 on the young season.

This pitching matchup definitely didn’t favor the Tigers, with Kevin Gausman at home and making his third start after a pair of shutout performances. Eduardo Rodriguez has faded in both his first two outings, and the Blue Jays feature a lineup full of dangerous right-handed hitters. As it turned out, Rodriguez held his own just fine.

Early on, things were going the Tigers way. They went down quickly in the top of the first, but did produce a fine defensive play. With two outs, Rodriguez walked Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Matt Chapman followed with a rocket off the right center field wall. Matt Vierling played the carom well, fired a strike to second baseman Nick Maton, and Maton quickly and accurately transferred and fired home to Eric Haase to easily cut down the big man trying to score from first.

Gausman and Rodriguez made quick work of the second and third innings. The Tigers were really struggling to pick up Gausman’s lethal splitter, while Rodriguez was giving up a bit of hard contact but racking up a lot of pop-ups, ground balls and routine fly outs as well.

Finally in the fourth, the Tigers broke through. Nick Maton got a fastball up and crushed it to straightaway center field for his second homer in as many nights. Kevin Kiermaier made a leaping attempt, but after robbing Kerry Carpenter on Tuesday night, he couldn’t come up with Maton’s drive. Still, Gausman had seven punchouts through four innings of work and his pitch count was in good shape.

In the bottom half of the inning, Guerrero reached on a soft ground ball to third base with one out. Rodriguez popped Chapman up, but Daulton Varsho singled just past a diving Maton, and longtime Tiger Killer Whit Merrifield came to the dish. Things got a little weird from there.

Merrifield ripped a ground ball into the hole and Báez laid out to snare it. Guerrero was already rumbling around third and the throw home forced Guerrero to retreat. The Tigers caught him in a pickle and tagged him out, but third base umpire Erich Bacchus quickly intervened, calling what I would term a pretty generous interpretation of interference on Kreidler. There was no contact, but Kreidler was in the baseline momentarily and had to clear out of Guerrero’s way as he roared around third. Still, he was out at home by a good 45-50 feet, so whatever minor impedance had zero effect on the play. Pretty weak call.

A.J. Hinch came out to discuss it, but there was no recourse. Moments later, Varsho and Merrifield tried a double steal which was initially successful, but the home plate umpire, Ryan Wills, got tangled up with Haase on the play, so the runners were returned to their bases on a rare umpire interference call. Santiago Espinal grounded out to end the inning.

Spencer Torkelson and Miguel Cabrera each hammered the ball in the top of the fifth, but they got nothing to show for it. Rodriguez punched out Kiermaier and George Springer in a quick bottom half of the inning.

Eric Haase drilled a hanging curveball into the left field corner for an automatic double to lead off the sixth inning, but this would be the inning of baserunning blunders. Espinal made a slick, near ole’ play, on a sharp grounder from Kreidler for the first out. Matt Vierling then grounded one to Bichette at shortstop and Haase broke for third too early. He was caught and tagged out, and that left Vierling at first with Maton at the dish. In another blunder, Vierling tried to steal second and went in standing up straight to the base. An outside slide would have made it very close despite a good throw from Jays’ catcher Alejandro Kirk, but instead he was a dead duck.

Ah, the fundamentals of baserunning. The Tigers and Jays were not putting them on display in this one.

Gausman was through six with just 73 pitches thrown, so the Tigers were going to have to deal with him at least once more. As for Rodriguez, he’d been efficient as well and really commanding his pitches. He racked up a pair of quick outs in the bottom of the sixth. Matt Chapman drilled E-Rod’s 89th pitch back up the middle for a single. Varsho singled to left, but Kerry Carpenter charged it and fired to Kreidler for the swipe tag on Chapman to end the inning, and Rodriguez’s outing. It was a pretty good one.

Gausman struck out Maton on a check swing to open the seventh, but Riley Greene grounded a single back up the middle with one out. Báez flew out to right, but after about 810 feet of flyouts last night, Kerry Carpenter would not be denied. Gausman threw a high fastball and Carpenter smoked it to right field for a two-run shot. Torkelson flew out to right field, but the Tigers had a 3-1 lead.

Jason Foley came on in the seventh and struck out Merrifield for the first out of the frame. Espinal and Danny Jansen both grounded out for a snappy inning.

Gausman came back out for the eighth, and Miguel Cabrera greeted him with a bullet to left and charged around first base with a huge smile on his face as he beat the throw at second for a double. Akil Baddoo came on to pinch run for him, but they couldn’t get the run home. Eric Haase struck out and Kreidler bounced out to shortstop. Vilering struck out on Gausman’s 103rd pitch, a splitter, and it was on to the bottom of the eighth and the heart of the Blue Jays order.

Hinch turned to Alex Lange in the bottom half of the eighth with the top of the order coming up again. He froze the nine-hitter, Kiermaier, with a nice swingback fastball for strike three and then punched out Springer swinging over a nasty curveball. Bo Bichette grounded out to Báez, and we were on to the ninth.

Jonathan Schoop pinch-hit for Maton to lead off the inning and reached on an infield single to first. Greene grounded into a fielder’s choice, replacing Schoop at first. Báez followed with a grounder to first and Guerrero stepped on first and made a nice throw to second to complete the double play.

We were begging Hinch to stick with Lange in the ninth after a 12 pitch eighth. He hadn’t pitched since Sunday and the Tigers really needed a win. Instead, he chose to go with Trey Wingenter instead. Very bad move. Guerrero led off with a single past a diving Báez, and Tigers fans really started feeling uncomfortable with Matt Chapman up. Wingenter missed wildly with a pair of fastballs, and then a slider, putting Chapman in a 3-0 count and then walking him. Wingenter wild pitched the runners up 90 feet as he fell behind 3-1 to Daulton Varsho and this had DOOM written all over it.

Wingenter eventually hit Varsho with a breaking ball to load the bases with no outs, and Hinch turned to lefty Chasen Shreve. Whit Merrifield lifted a routine fly ball to right and Guerrero tagged and scored to make it 3-2 with one out, and runners on first and third. Jays’ manager John Schneider pinch-hit Alejandro Kirk for Espinal at this point. Kirk flew out to Vierling, and that allowed Chapman to race home with the tying run. Danny Jansen lined out to left and that ended the rally.

Nice job by Shreve in a very bad situation. Poor decision by Hinch. Poor pitching from Wingenter. Granted, the options look pretty bad in general right now. On to extras.

Right-hander Jordan Romano took over for the Blue Jays in the 10th, with Báez the runner on second. Carpenter led off and dropped a soft tapper in front of the plate. Danny Jansen pounced and threw him out at first as Báez aggressively took off from second. Guerrero made a really nice throw to third, but Báez slid to the outside of the bag and just barely beat the throw to get himself in position to score on a fly ball.

Torkelson quickly fell behind 0-2 whiffing over a pair of sliders and eventually lifted a shallow fly ball to George Springer in right field. Báez had no chance to score on the play. Baddoo worked his way to a 3-2 count and drew a walk when Romano missed outside with a slider. That left it up to Eric Haase. The Tigers catcher chopped one to shortstop and Bichette had to hurry. He threw wide of first base, but Guerrero made another good play, stretching to corral it for the final out while keeping his toes on the bag.

Shreve stayed in the game in the bottom of the 10th, with Jansen on second as the Manfred runner. Kiermaier bunted Jansen over to third in classic style, and Hinch came out to get Shreve, who doesn’t get that many ground balls, and turned to Jose Cisnero with George Springer up. Predictably, Springer singled home Jansen for the game winner, or so I’m told, since Bally Sports Detroit was still in commercial break on my feed for the play.

Bad loss. Put this one on Hinch to some degree. Use Lange in the ninth and you give yourself the best chance to win. Instead, not only did they lose, but they ended up using three other relievers to do it. Wanting to test guys in different roles early in the season is understandable. The Tigers aren’t contending for anything anyway. But they badly needed a win to try and arrest their now traditional April slide, and their manager didn’t give them their best chance to succeed. Granted that he isn’t working with much right now, which falls on Scott Harris.

Spencer Turnbull will take on RHP Chris Bassitt on Thursday night as the Tigers look to avoid getting swept for the third of four series to start the year.