After sweeping Wednesday’s doubleheader, Eduardo Rodriguez and the Tigers looked to take it to Justin Verlander and the Mets in his first start of the year. A pair of early blasts off the Tigers legend set the tone, but it was again the brilliance of Rodriguez that took center stage as the Tigers completed the sweep on a sunny Thursday afternoon in Detroit.
Eduardo Rodriguez’s first task was to establish a similar tone to his fantastic recent run of starts. He had no problem doing so, punching out both Brandon Nimmo and Francisco Lindor, the latter whiffing at a pair of good fastballs, to end the top of the first.
That brought us to the moment when Justin Verlander took the mound once again at Comerica Park, potentially for the last time, although we’d put nothing past the future Hall of Famer.
Here was the scene as he jogged out of the Mets dugout for the bottom of the first inning.
Justin Verlander makes his Mets debut....at Comerica Park where he pitched for 13 seasons. Pretty cool— Sporting News MLB (@sn_mlb) May 4, 2023
: @SNYtv pic.twitter.com/vjkMXYJlkF
And then there was the scene minutes later as Riley Greene took him deep, and then Javier Báez followed suit with his second homer in as many days. Verlander bounced back to strike out Nick Maton, but was fortunate that another laser off of Spencer Torkelson’s bat was caught by Mark Canha in left field. Leadoff hitter Zach McKinstry started the inning with a loud out to center field as well.
On the plus side for the Mets, Verlander was sitting 94-96 mph. Probably a little rusty to start with and the Tigers took advantage.
Riley. Javy.— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) May 4, 2023
BACK. TO. BACK. pic.twitter.com/bULeWPT3LP
Riley Greene HR: 106.8 mph, 383 ft— Cody Stavenhagen (@CodyStavenhagen) May 4, 2023
Javier Báez HR: 103.5 mph, 380 ft
Eduardo Rodriguez picked right back up where he left off. He whiffed Pete Alonso to open the second inning. Tommy Pham laced a single, but Rodriguez then froze Jeff McNeil for strike three, and Jake Rogers gunned down Pham trying to steal second. Two innings. 27 pitches. Four strikeouts. One single erased by Rogers to Andy Ibáñez at second base.
Jake Rogers with a strike to get Tommy Pham out at second. #RepDetroit pic.twitter.com/qVn0xFVq7E— Bally Sports Detroit (@BallySportsDET) May 4, 2023
Eric Haase opened the bottom of the second with a 103 mph lineout, the fifth straight batter to hit the ball more than 100 mph against JV to start the game. Matt Vierling flew out to center, and Ibáñez to left to end the inning. That’s a lot of hard-hit line drives and fly balls through two innings. Still, just two runs.
Rodriguez walked Eduardo Escobar in the third but otherwise spun another expeditious inning with no hard contact. In the bottom half, Verlander struck out Jake Rogers in their first meeting since the trade that saw them exchanged for one another. However, McKinstry walked and Greene singled the opposite way on a high fastball, bringing up Báez with two on and one out. The Tigers’ shortstop lifted a fly ball out to Nimmo in center, allowing McKinstry to take third with two outs. Nick Maton saw four straight sliders and should’ve struck out, but a call on the inner edge went the Tigers’ way. Greene stole second, but it was all for naught as a fifth slider drew the Wolfie Whiff, and we were on to the fourth inning.
Both starters were really dealing by this point, particularly Rodriguez. The Tigers got a leadoff double from Ibáñez, who has turned up red hot since arriving from Toledo, in the bottom of the fifth, but squandered it. Otherwise, there wasn’t much to report other than good pitching.
Rodriguez cruised through the sixth, and Jeff Brigham took over from Verlander in the bottom half. The right-hander hit Spencer Torkelson but otherwise spun a clean inning. In the seventh Rodriguez was still absolutely dominating. He whiffed Lindor and Alonso, and then froze Tommy Pham. Dominic Leone kept the Tigers off the board in the seventh as well.
That made nine strikeouts, two hits, and a walk allowed from Rodriguez through seven innings with 88 pitches thrown. A.J. Hinch continued to ride his top starter into the eighth as Zack Short took over from Ibáñez as second base for defensive purposes.
Jeff McNeil, as he does, battled Rodriguez through a seven-pitch AB to open the eighth, but eventually the lefty won out, getting a ground out. Canha drilled a line drive that Riley Greene handled in center field, and Rodriguez’s 102nd pitch was lined to Vierling by Eduardo Escobar.
Rodriguez’s line: 8 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, BB, 9 SO. The man is on fire. His ERA now stands at 1.81 on the year.
V I L L A I N— Bally Sports Detroit (@BallySportsDET) May 4, 2023
Eduardo Rodriguez records 9K's #RepDetroit pic.twitter.com/eCNrMguPKY
Had the Tigers tacked on a few more runs, E-Rod probably would’ve gotten the chance at the complete game, but with Alex Lange ready to go, the choice was clear.
Former Tigers’ farmhand Drew Smith took over for the Mets in the bottom of the eighth. The only thing eventful about the inning was Smith drilling Báez in the hand. Stop hitting our shortstop right when he’s getting hot, you jerks.
So, the ball was now in Lange’s court as he hunted for his fifth save. He started off right, striking out Daniel Vogelbach, but Nimmo poked a single to left field. Still, he was then erased by Rogers trying to steal second. Can’t run on the sheriff, kids. Lange punched out Starling Marte, and that, friends, is a sweep of the mighty Mets.
The Tigers are now 13-17 and now a half game behind Cleveland, who are idle on Thursday, for second place in the AL Central. Yep, this is more like it.