DETROIT -- The Tigers have won back-to-back games with a plastic rally goose in their dugout. What was more impressive about their 5-2 win over the Blue Jays on Friday was what they had to work with in their bullpen.Ron Gardenhire built a dominant bullpen during his managerial tenure in
DETROIT -- The Tigers have won back-to-back games with a plastic rally goose in their dugout. What was more impressive about their 5-2 win over the Blue Jays on Friday was what they had to work with in their bullpen.
Ron Gardenhire built a dominant bullpen during his managerial tenure in Minnesota with a late-innings trio of J.C. Romero, Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan. As the Tigers turned to Artie Lewicki with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth, Gardenhire wasn't looking for dominance. He was just looking for an out.
"That's what Gardy said," Lewicki recalled. "He said, 'You have to get one out. That's it. However you want to do it. You want to punch him out, ground ball, popup, whatever. You just have to get an out right here.'"
Lewicki nearly pitched the University of Virginia to a College World Series title out of the Cavalier bullpen. However, he has been a starter in the Tigers' Minors system and a long reliever in Detroit. He hadn't entered a game with a lead in his brief big league career.
With setup man Joe Jimenez on rest, Daniel Stumpf injured, and the Blue Jays rallying off Johnny Barbato, somebody had to protect the lead in the eighth. That led Gardenhire to Lewicki.
"It was cool," Lewicki said. "The adrenaline was going. My heart was beating a little bit."
So was Gardenhire's as he tried to piece together outs from his available relievers to protect a lead. But after Shane Greene finished off the ninth for his 14th save, Gardenhire could breathe a sigh of relief -- no pun intended -- and feel like his team took a necessary step to balance the bullpen.
"It was high [anxiety]," Gardenhire said. "I was drinking a lot of water. It's good to see some other people out there. … Other people have to do some things here."
Jimenez leads the American League with 30 appearances. Stumpf was on the same pace with 28 before he went on the DL with ulnar nerve irritation earlier this week. Greene and Buck Farmer are also at 28.
Farmer had struggled badly lately with 11 runs on 13 hits over 4 2/3 innings in his previous six appearances. He nearly gave up a run with a 4-2 lead in the seventh, but Aledmys Diaz's two-out hit was deemed a ground-rule double, keeping Devon Travis at third base. Farmer retired Teoscar Hernandez to strand the tying run on second.
"It wasn't beautiful," Gardenhire said, "but he got through an inning and got the big outs."
On came Barbato, called up from Toledo a couple days ago. He struck out Yangervis Solarte before Justin Smoak drew a one-out walk, Kendrys Morales sent a ground-ball single just out of second baseman Ronny Rodriguez's grasp, and Russell Martin took a hit-by-pitch with two outs, loading the bases for former Tigers prospect Travis.
Lewicki was warming in a hurry.
"We're trying to get through the inning with Barbato, but after he misfired the last hitter, we said we just have to go to him," Gardenhire said.
The ensuing out was an example of why Lewicki has fared well lately. He dropped a first-pitch slider in the zone for strike one, then spotted a fastball on the outside corner. Instead of trying to get Travis to chase, Lewicki challenged him with an 0-2 fastball, which Travis pounded into the ground for the third out.
"It was fun to get in there in a leverage situation and have some success," Lewicki said.
The Tigers' offense largely came from an early surge. JaCoby Jones' triple was one of six second-inning hits to chase Jays starter Jaime Garcia (2-4), but it was by far the most damaging, falling just beyond Kevin Pillar's reach in right-center field and bouncing to the wall as James McCann and Victor Martinez rounded the bases. Leonys Martin brought home Jones with a groundout before Jeimer Candelario's single drove in Jose Iglesias, who doubled in the frame. Nicholas Castellanos added a solo homer in the seventh.
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Big inning for Iglesias: Starter Blaine Hardy carried the lead with six innings of two-run ball, but he credited his clean fourth inning to Iglesias, who converted all three outs. Iglesias made a throw in the air from deep in the hole to retire Smoak for the first out, then made another highlight play on Pillar to complete the inning.
"I was joking with Gardy that he didn't need the rest of the infield out there, other than Miggy [at first base]," Hardy said. "That was probably the best I've seen him."
Castellanos' solo homer not only provided the Tigers with an insurance run, but it also completed his third consecutive three-hit game, his second such streak this season. No Tiger has had a longer such streak since Magglio Ordonez had four straight three-hit games from July 22-26, 2008.
Matthew Boyd (3-4, 3.00 ERA), a former Blue Jays Draft pick, faces his old squad Saturday as the series continues with a 4:10 p.m. ET matchup at Comerica Park. The left-hander tossed five scoreless innings against the Angels on Monday before leaving with an oblique spasm. Southpaw J.A. Happ (7-3, 3.84 ERA) gets the start for Toronto.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.