Tigers maintain faith in Alexander as starter

August 12th, 2020

DETROIT -- wasn’t pitching for strikeouts when he tied an American League record with nine in a row in his previous outing, and he wasn’t pitching for strikeouts in Tuesday’s 8-4 loss to the White Sox either.

Alexander was looking for soft contact and efficient outs in both cases, and with a half-dozen ground-ball outs Tuesday, he accomplished that. But when the White Sox got the ball into the air, it went some distance.

“The kid's been throwing great. We've all seen it. It just didn't work out today,” said manager Ron Gardenhire.

The reaction from Eloy Jiménez when he connected with an Alexander breaking ball didn’t suggest he thought it was headed out. Nor did the metrics, with a .380 expected batting average. When it carried over the right-field fence for a three-run home run, the White Sox had a 4-0 lead in the first inning, and Alexander had essentially the opposite of his strikeout fortunes from nine days earlier.

“I didn’t think it was going out,” Alexander said. “It was the first decent backdoor slider I threw all day. Based off of his reaction, when he kind of slammed his bat down, he hit it just well enough to get it over the fence. That’s baseball.”

And after the White Sox tagged Alexander for five runs over 3 2/3 innings, the Tigers -- whose four-game winning streak came to an end -- will hope for better his next time out. His previous work deserves more than a one-and-done turn through the rotation. But with working to get his swing-and-miss stuff together, and top pitching prospect Casey Mize looming in Toledo, Alexander will need to capitalize -- even if it involves a rematch with the all-too-familiar White Sox lineup next week.

“We just go day by day, and you guys know that,” Gardenhire said. “But he’s a good pitcher. We’ve seen him pitch really good ballgames out of the bullpen and starting.”

Alexander made four starts against Chicago as a rookie in 2019, so there was no surprising either side on approach. The surprise was Alexander’s battle to throw strikes. Compared to the Reds, the normally aggressive White Sox waited out Alexander until they saw their pitch.

“He just didn't have his location today,” Gardenhire said. “That's a very aggressive, good-hitting team, and you have to make pitches. And he just didn't have it.”

For José Abreu, it was a 2-1 fastball on the inner half that he sent into the gap in left-center for an RBI double to open the scoring four batters into the game. For Jiménez, it was the aforementioned breaking ball for a home run, the first of two opposite-field hits he inflicted on the Tigers in a four-RBI performance.

“I thought he was handling inside to righties pretty well. We were trying to stay in there,” said catcher , whose two-run homer led Detroit’s offense off Sox starter Gio González. “But against a team that can swing the bat like them, you’ve got to be able to do some stuff on the other side of the plate, and I think he was trying to fight to get a backdoor slider or a changeup working over there. Just some misexecuted pitches.”

Alexander retired six of his next seven batters before falling behind against Edwin Encarnación, who sent an elevated slider 410 feet towards the left-field corner for his second homer of the year.

“After that tough first inning, I settled in nicely and sort of realized what I had today,” Alexander said. “The one thing I could command was the fastball glove-side, so I threw a lot more of those in those middle innings and had a little bit more success.”

Alexander walked three and struck out two. He induced four swings and misses, all on changeups and breaking balls.

The encouraging side for Tigers pitching came at the back end, once the White Sox had put the game out of reach. and delivered a perfect inning each in relief. Funkhouser, a Chicago-area native, was particularly impressive against his hometown team, with his fastball topping 97 mph to set up his slider for strikeouts of Adam Engel and Yoán Moncada.

“They looked like the second or third time going out there that [the game] kind of slowed down for them,” Romine said. “They both threw the ball well. Funk threw the ball well. It was nice to see him take control of the inning.”