DETROIT -- Nathan Eovaldi admittedly felt a little frustrated on Monday afternoon.
If you look at the scoreboard, it was a perfectly acceptable day. Eovaldi and a trio of relievers -- Brock Burke, Jonathan Hérnandez and José Leclerc -- blanked the Tigers in a 5-0 victory at Comerica Park to open the three-game set in Detroit.
But despite a solid outing by almost anybody’s standards, the Tigers made Eovaldi work for every bit of it. His five-inning start matched his shortest outing of the year, and it marked the first time since April that he didn't pitch into the sixth inning. He walked three batters for the first time this year, allowing almost as many walks as he collected strikeouts (four).
“I was definitely a little frustrated with my mechanics and, I think, just my misses in general,” Eovaldi said. “I didn't feel like I was really attacking the zone and attacking the hitters the way I have been able to lately. At the end of the day, we were able to put zeros on the board, but at times I was just getting more frustrated with the competitiveness of that side of it.”
And that’s Detroit’s MO. The Tigers consistently tax opposing starters, driving up pitch counts and forcing teams to turn the bullpen earlier than most would like. No starter has gone deeper than six innings against them since May 13.
It’s more of a credit to Eovaldi that he was able to withstand the plate discipline of Detroit's hitters and grind through five scoreless innings.
“Nate was good,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “He had to work hard -- a little extra hard, honestly. He's been doing so much heavy lifting for us. So it's good to get him out of there after five for the bullpen to put up zeros.”
The second inning perfectly illustrated the styles of both Detroit's offense and Eovaldi’s recent hot streak. The right-hander first walked Spencer Torkelson on five pitches and Nick Maton on seven pitches before giving up a single to Akil Baddoo to load the bases.
The Tigers were steadily driving up Eovaldi’s pitch count early, but he didn’t give them a chance to capitalize, inducing a fielder’s choice to Nathan Lowe at first base and a flawlessly executed 6-4-3 double play to end the inning with no damage.
Eovaldi admitted that he didn't think the infield would be able to turn the double play because of how softly the ball was hit and how awkward of a turn it would be, as shortstop Corey Seager needed to make a sharp throw across his body and against his momentum to quickly get the runner going to second.
“Seager made an unbelievable play right there running in and being able to turn the play, and Semien was able to finish it off,” Eovaldi said. “I mean, that was a big one for us right there, especially with myself getting us in that jam, and [our] defense came up big. … It was a big inning for us.”
The successful turn marked the fourth time in the past two weeks that a Texas pitcher has gotten out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam and surrendered zero runs.
“It just shows you a couple of things,” Bochy said. “One, I mean, the guy on the mound. They have to keep their poise and the stuff that they have. I've said this, but really good pitchers have the ability to turn it up when they have to. And Nate did today. Nobody out, bases loaded, and he just ramped it up and made some great pitches.”
Even with Eovaldi not at his best, he still gave his team a good outing. He tossed five scoreless innings, striking out four, before turning it over to the bullpen to shut the door. A three-run homer courtesy of Seager handed Eovaldi his team-leading seventh win of the season.
Despite not feeling his best in his final outing this month, Eovaldi held the Tigers scoreless on 95 pitches (57 strikes), lowering his ERA in May to 0.96 to finish off one of the best months of his career. The previous best month of his career was September 2018 with the Red Sox, when he had 1.35 ERA over five games (four starts).
Ever since ace Jacob deGrom landed on the IL on April 29, Eovaldi has headed one of the best rotations in baseball, looking every bit like another top dog.
“That may get lost [in the win],” Bochy said. “He did a great job, a really good job, and that's important. Like I said, he's been carrying us.”