DETROIT -- In nine innings against the Astros on Tuesday night at Comerica Park, the Tigers encapsulated what this season has been about. They fell behind, looked discombobulated at times, but didn't go down without a fight in a 5-4 loss.The Tigers left no doubt that they are a club
DETROIT -- In nine innings against the Astros on Tuesday night at Comerica Park, the Tigers encapsulated what this season has been about. They fell behind, looked discombobulated at times, but didn't go down without a fight in a 5-4 loss.
The Tigers left no doubt that they are a club in the beginning stages of a rebuild. Ronny Rodriguez, playing his ninth game of the season at first base, missed two pickoff attempts by Jordan Zimmermann, one of which hit Tony Kemp in the back of his right elbow.
On a Jose Altuve single, Kemp went from first to third, but nearly collided with second baseman Dawel Lugo while rounding second. In the first inning, the Tigers were shifted to the right for Marwin Gonzalez, who hit what usually becomes a double play to the right side of second base. Jeimer Candelario fielded the ball, but no one was at second for the throw.
"Those guys, when you make a mistake, they make you pay for it most of the time," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But guys are trying. We'll be better for it at the end when these guys learn all these different positions and we move them around as best as we possibly can for the most part."
The American League West-leading Astros were soaking up every bit of the Tigers' inexperience. They launched three home runs off Zimmermann in the first four innings, including Altuve's leadoff homer on the first pitch of the game. It was the second time in his last three starts that Zimmermann has given up three home runs.
"I didn't have my best stuff tonight," Zimmermann said. "The fastball command wasn't really there. The offspeed stuff was hit-or-miss."
Such are the expected growing pains of a team that plays with more heart than experience right now. But as team chairman and CEO Chris Ilitch noted Tuesday afternoon after the team picture, rarely are the Tigers not competitive.
Down, 5-0, with two outs in the fourth inning, they scrapped until breaking through against Astros starter Framber Valdez. Rodriguez worked a seven-pitch walk. Lugo hit a chopper that took a bad hop over the head of Carlos Correa at shortstop, scoring Niko Goodrum. JaCoby Jones blew the inning open with a three-run home run to left field. Jones' home run had an exit velocity of 111.6 mph, per Statcast™, making it the Tigers' hardest-hit homer this season.
"We've got a lot of guys that are playing for their lives, playing for something," reliever Alex Wilson said. "And they're playing for next year. These guys can earn a spot and showcase what they can do. I think everybody's done a great job of keeping their head and working hard and finishing this season strong, which we didn't do last year."
Jarrod Saltalamacchia made his season debut for the Tigers behind the plate, replacing Grayson Greiner in the ninth inning. Saltalamacchia, in his 12th Major League season, was called up Sunday.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
After Daniel Stumpf recorded the second out of the seventh inning, the Tigers turned to 25-year-old Victor Alcantara to face Tyler White -- who hit a two-run home run in the fourth -- with the bases loaded. Alcantara challenged White with two-seamers to get to a full count. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, White hit a hard chopper to Candelario at third base. The ball ricocheted off Candelario, who recovered to throw out White at first. White was initially called safe, but the call was overturned after a 57-second review, preserving the Tigers' one-run deficit at 5-4.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With one out in the ninth inning, Yuli Gurriel hit a single to right-center field and tried to stretch it into a double. Jones cut the ball off and spun around to throw a strike to Goodrum at the bag. Gurriel was called out, and the call on the field was confirmed after the Astros challenged.
"JaCoby is an All-Star center fielder," said Wilson, who was pitching at the time. "It is what it is. He made a big play for me."
The Tigers finish their series against the Astros on Wednesday with a 1:10 p.m. ET first pitch. Daniel Norris (0-3, 5.47 ERA) will get the nod for Detroit. Norris has accumulated 14 strikeouts over his last 9 1/3 innings. The Astros will go with Gerrit Cole (13-5, 2.86 ERA), who is one of three AL pitchers with an opponent batting average under .200 (.197).
Tyler Fenwick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Detroit.