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Tigers can't find big hit in loss to Twins

Lack of success with runners in scoring position sinks Detroit
@beckjason
April 13, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Tigers’ power output through 14 games has been dominated by one player. That isn’t a particular surprise the way Detroit’s lineup is constructed. The surprise might be who’s doing it. Christin Stewart's sixth-inning drive landed in the upper-deck seats in right-center field, a 409-foot drive to territory

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Tigers’ power output through 14 games has been dominated by one player. That isn’t a particular surprise the way Detroit’s lineup is constructed. The surprise might be who’s doing it.

Christin Stewart's sixth-inning drive landed in the upper-deck seats in right-center field, a 409-foot drive to territory at Target Field that Brennan Boesch once reached during his mercurial rookie season nine years ago. The solo shot was Stewart’s third home run of the season, matching the rest of Detroit’s roster combined. The latter might be as much of a surprise as the former.

The way fly balls weren’t carrying for hitters not named Stewart on a cold day in the Twin Cities, the relative dearth of home runs in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Twins wasn’t all that shocking. But the Tigers needed one more big hit of some sort to nullify the four-run third inning Minnesota posted on starter Tyson Ross. Detroit churned out 10 hits for the game, doubling their opponent, but couldn’t get the one it needed.

“It’s frustrating for the guys that are in the lineup,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Maybe they’re trying a little too hard; who knows? You’d have to go talk to each one individually and see what their thoughts are. But we’re not coming up with enough of those big hits. We got a couple of them today, but we’re definitely not coming up with enough of those big hits right now, and that’s how you end up losing a ballgame like that.”

Jordy Mercer’s leadoff double in the fifth inning, a hit Mercer ran out despite a right quad spasm that hobbled him on his way around first base, went unrewarded. So did John Hicks’ one-out double after Stewart’s homer. JaCoby Jones stood at third base with one out in the seventh inning after a single, stolen base and Jason Castro throwing error, but Josh Harrison’s groundout to third and Jeimer Candelario's strikeout against Trevor Hildenberger ended the threat.

Gordon Beckham’s one-out walk in the ninth and a Blake Parker wild pitch created one more opportunity, but a called third strike on Jones and a strikeout of Harrison closed out the game.

The Tigers went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position. One of them was a third-inning ball Jones hit up the middle that seemed poised to become a double play until it hit second-base umpire Chris Guccione and caromed into center field, loading the bases for Harrison’s sacrifice fly and Candelario’s RBI single.

For the season, the Tigers are now batting .167 (19-for-114) with runners in scoring position, the lowest in the Majors. Their three sacrifice flies rank in the middle of the pack in the Majors.

“Today we had a ton of hits, but the big thing about baseball is that the timing is what we need,” Stewart said. “With runners in scoring position, obviously we’re always trying to score those runs, but the way I try to approach it is that the pressure’s on the pitcher in those situations, not the hitter. You just have to kind of step back and slow everything down.”

They took the field Saturday with an injury-shortened lineup that lacked leading hitter Niko Goodrum (illness) and Nicholas Castellanos (sprained right big toe); Mercer’s quad spasm and exit left the Tigers with no healthy position players on their bench.

Still, their offensive woes have lingered through two weeks of the season. Detroit overcame it early through stingy pitching, especially from starters. Tyson Ross appeared poised for the same before a 34-pitch third inning put him behind, as he struggled to find his mechanics pitching with runners on base.

The Tigers avoided further damage when Eddie Rosario’s drive to center field died in the cold air in the seventh inning, helped Victor Alcantara escape a bases-loaded jam he inherited from Drew VerHagen and Daniel Stumpf, who walked the first three batters of the inning. Still, they couldn’t take advantage.

“It probably should’ve been our ballgame,” Gardenhire said. “We had enough people out there left on base, people in scoring position, to get one of those to fall down or fall in there. We would’ve been OK. We hit some balls right on the screws. They made some plays on them.”

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.