Pérez's bat a revelation in tough twin bill for Tigers' offense

No. 20 prospect logs first career hits in nightcap as Detroit's K total in series extends to 42

April 14th, 2024

DETROIT -- Wenceel Pérez saw the roller towards first base, smelled a chance for his first Major League hit and bolted down the line, reaching near-elite sprint speed at 29.6 feet per second before sliding head-first into the bag.

Pérez, ranked as the Tigers’ No. 20 prospect by MLB Pipeline, got up, dusted himself off and smiled at the ovation.

“It was great, a dream come true in the big leagues,” Pérez said afterwards. “Get here, get your first Major League hit. It was great, an unbelievable moment. It was going to be better if we'd won.”

Not only did Pérez’s single put him on the board after his callup on Monday, it helped put Detroit on the board in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader at Comerica Park, setting up a Javier Báez sacrifice fly. It was a demonstration of the value of putting the ball in play. The downfall for the Tigers was that they didn’t have enough of them.

With the doubleheader sweep -- an 11-5 loss to the Twins in 12 innings in the opener, a 4-1 defeat in the nightcap -- the Tigers’ hopes of a statement series against the reigning American League Central champions have shifted to needing a win on Sunday afternoon to salvage a split of the four-game set.

To do that, Detroit will have to awaken an offense that wavered off the organizational philosophy of dominating the strike zone.

“We’re certainly more of a contact team than we’ve shown the last few games,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “We want that to be just a little bit of a novelty, but it’s been the story of the last couple of days. We’ve had a hard time creating innings when there’s miss.

“You’ve got to put the ball in play to play the game, and we haven’t done a great job of that.”

The Tigers won Friday’s series opener despite striking out 15 times against Pablo López and the Minnesota bullpen. Detroit came within extra innings of becoming the ninth team in AL/NL history -- and the first since the 2020 Tigers -- to win back-to-back games despite 15 or more strikeouts. But their 17 strikeouts caught up with them in the first game of the doubleheader, including two strikeouts in extra innings with the potential winning run in scoring position.

The struggles followed them into the late afternoon shadows of Game 2, where Simeon Woods Richardson -- called up from Triple-A St. Paul for a spot start -- struck out five and retired his final 14 batters over six innings of one-run, two-hit ball. Pérez’s infield single was Detroit’s final hit off him.

The Tigers struck out 10 times in Game 2. Their 42 strikeouts through the first three games of the series mark their most in a three-game stretch since Aug. 10-12, 2022, when they fanned 14 times in three consecutive games.

“That’s not a recipe for more runs,” Hinch said.

To be fair, the Tigers’ offense had its struggles coming in, despite a four-run ninth inning in Tuesday’s series finale at Pittsburgh. But with some hitters looking to get out of slow starts -- Parker Meadows is 2-for-31 with 15 strikeouts this season, Báez is 1-for-21 with nine strikeouts over his past seven games, and Jake Rogers is 3-for-28 with 14 strikeouts this season -- Minnesota had opportunities to exploit Detroit’s offense.

The Twins quieted the Tigers’ young lineup, hot hitters and cold, with an array of secondary pitches. Game 1 starter Joe Ryan drew 12 strikeouts and 20 swinging strikes over six quality innings, including six whiffs each on his splitter and slider, and several chases.

Ryan struck out every member of Detroit’s starting lineup, including previously warm Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson twice each. Both fanned three times for the game.

“If [the fastball is] down in the zone and he’s pumping for strikes down there, it’s hard to get that and decipher the two,” Zach McKinstry said of the splitter, “because the [splitter] just drops off the table.”

The challenge with Woods-Richardson, a pitcher some Tigers faced two years ago at Comerica Park, was centering his arsenal. Detroit struck out five times in as many innings and had seven swings and misses, but also took 13 called strikes, nine of them fastballs.

Woods Richardson fanned Greene and Torkelson in the first inning, and former Twin Gio Urshela with two on and none out in the second.

“He mixed his pitches and we never really centered him up a ton,” Hinch said. “There were a couple of near-misses, but we didn't really pressure him and put a lot of guys on base. I think that was a little troublesome for us.”