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Tigers’ powerful lead evaporates in loss 

Dixon, Castro go back-to-back to give Detroit six-run lead in third; Ramirez allows five runs in 1 1/3 innings
@JakeCrouseMLB
June 19, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- The Tigers were poised to get out of Pittsburgh with two wins in hand on Wednesday, jumping out to a 7-1 lead after the top of the third against Pirates starter Trevor Williams, thanks in part to two notable home runs. But when Nick Ramirez allowed five runs

PITTSBURGH -- The Tigers were poised to get out of Pittsburgh with two wins in hand on Wednesday, jumping out to a 7-1 lead after the top of the third against Pirates starter Trevor Williams, thanks in part to two notable home runs.

But when Nick Ramirez allowed five runs on a pair of Pirates homers in relief, it allowed Pittsburgh to complete an impressive comeback, sending Detroit to an 8-7 loss at PNC Park. It was the first time the Bucs had accomplished a successful rally from six runs down in nearly 11 years.

Overall, the game turned out to be a collection of reversed trends for the Tigers regarding the long ball, both from the offensive and pitching perspectives. Here’s how those developments shaped Wednesday’s outcome.

Box score

Zimmermann contains Pirates in return
There were some who wondered if Jordan Zimmermann would return to the mound when he left his start against the Red Sox on April 25, with what was then called right elbow discomfort. But he has returned and is feeling healthy. And in his first start back from what turned out to be a right UCL sprain, Zimmermann tossed a decent line -- especially when it came to keeping the ball in the park.

Between the start of the 2017 season through April 26, when he hit the injured list, Zimmermann surrendered 63 homers, which was sixth most among all Major League pitchers. He allowed six through his first 30 1/3 innings of this season, then let up three more in two rehab starts.

But on Wednesday, Zimmermann worked through primarily ground balls and weak popups, limiting hard contact in the air even though he gave up three runs over four innings. Much of the soft contact came from his success with the curveball, which he used to rack up all four strikeouts, though he struggled with his slider.

“The curveball has been a really, really good pitch for me lately, and the slider just hasn’t quite been there yet,” Zimmermann said. “I threw a few good ones and then a few that would back up, so I didn’t want to get beat with that pitch. So we stuck with what was working.”

Dixon, Castro slug in tandem
The Tigers broke the game open in a five-run third inning, which began with a single and two doubles, before back-to-back homers from Brandon Dixon and Harold Castro made the highlight reel.

With Niko Goodrum at second, Dixon launched a home run off Williams to easily clear the deepest part of PNC Park in left-center field. The 454-foot drive tied Ronny Rodriguez’s home run off the Twins’ Michael Pineda on May 11 for Detroit’s longest this year.

“It was just one of those balls [that] when you hit it, you just knew you got it,” Dixon said.

Castro followed it with his first Major League homer, a ball lifted into the center-field bleachers, and one that he plans to give to his dad.

“When the guy in front of me hits a homer, I was trying to follow him,” Castro said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. I saw the video of [Williams]. I saw he liked to throw in, so I was looking for that pitch.”

The brief burst of power was a welcome sign for a Detroit squad that entered Wednesday’s action with the second-fewest home runs in the Majors at 59, behind only the Marlins’ 53. Dixon’s homer, his eighth, tied JaCoby Jones for the most by a Tigers player this season.

Lead evaporates with two blasts
Ramirez had been on a roll this season, posting a 3.00 ERA and just three homers allowed in 27 innings before his appearance against the Pirates. So it’s no wonder why manager Ron Gardenhire called Ramirez a “go-to guy” in the bullpen.

But in the fifth inning, the left-handed Ramirez quickly gave up a single, then a two-run homer on just his fourth pitch, then he allowed a 421-foot three-run home run to Bryan Reynolds on a hanging knuckle curve in the sixth that catapulted the Pirates from a 7-1 deficit to an 8-7 advantage.

“It was just hard for us,” catcher John Hicks said. “[Ramirez] didn’t have his best stuff. The cutter, he was kind of yanking it. It was in off the plate to the righties, usually he gets a lot of swings on that pitch. Then the changeup was kind of up, he was just pushing it. The homer was just a breaking ball that stayed up.”

Jake Crouse is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter @JakeCrouseMLB.