DETROIT -- What had been an encouraging stretch for Matthew Boyd ended with seven runs over three-plus innings Wednesday against the Brewers. What has been a surprising run into contention for the Tigers came back to one key point in a 19-0 loss: they need consistent starting pitching to stay in the postseason chase.
The Tigers were hoping for that Wednesday from Boyd, who had rebounded from his rough opening month with three solid starts in a row. And as the Brewers churned out four second-inning doubles in a five-batter span to move in front, it was clear Boyd would get plenty of opportunities to work through his issues. But after an infield single, two-run homer and a five-pitch walk pushed Boyd over the 75-pitch mark with nobody out in the fourth inning, manager Ron Gardenhire had little choice but to go to his bullpen early.
“A lot of bad things happen when a game goes like that, and it went awry pretty quick,” Gardenhire said.
By the ninth inning, Gardenhire had similarly little choice but to turn to a position player to pitch, an option he hates. But the Tigers had already churned through four relievers to handle five frames the day before a doubleheader in St. Louis, with a key three-game series against the White Sox awaiting them in Chicago after that.
Kyle Funkhouser, who pitched two valuable innings of relief for his first Major League win Sunday in Minnesota, gave up three runs in the seventh. He was optioned to Toledo after the game along with John Schreiber, who gave up two runs in 2 1/3 innings after Boyd’s exit.
Joe Jiménez, who had moved from closer to a setup role to get more regular work, pitched a scoreless eighth inning in a 15-run game out of necessity.
Outfielder Travis Demeritte entered for the ninth and threw 81 mph fastballs, one of which Jedd Gyorko hit into the left-field seats for his second homer of the day, another of which Tyrone Taylor hit out for his first Major League homer and the final margin.
“I had one player left on the bench, which was [catcher Austin] Romine, and we were not going to use any more pitchers out there,” Gardenhire said, “so it was really a pretty simple thing. I told Demeritte, 'Don't get killed. Just throw the ball over. Don't do anything fancy, and let's try to get out of here.'”
Boyd (1-6) allowed eight hits in all, walking four and striking out two. His ERA rose from 6.64 to 7.63. Six of those hits went for extra bases. His changeup, which had become an effective pitch for him over his previous few starts, was of little help Wednesday to get hitters off his fastball.
“I could see what they were trying to do,” Boyd said, “and I just couldn’t command the baseball today with really anything I was working with. It kind of happens. A lot to be learned.”
By contrast, Corbin Burnes struck out 11 Tigers over seven innings. The only hit he allowed was Willi Castro's 421-foot triple in the fifth inning off the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field.
Tigers starters have combined to post a 6.45 ERA, the highest in the Majors, and a .282 opponents’ average, third highest behind the Red Sox and Nationals. Their average of 17.86 pitches per inning ranks second highest. Their rate of 4.14 walks per nine innings ranks fourth highest, while their 1.95 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks third lowest.
The starters’ average of just over four innings per start is impacted by Michael Fulmer, who has been limited to three innings per start this season in his return from Tommy John surgery. Their six quality starts include six innings of two-hit, one-run ball from rookie Tarik Skubal last Saturday in Minnesota, a sign of progress from Detroit’s pitching prospects that could benefit both the pitchers and the club down the stretch.
Detroit’s bullpen also has some rough numbers, including a 5.01 ERA and a .255 opponents’ average. But its 2.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks eighth best in the Majors, and its 1.31 WHIP ranks 12th.
When Boyd and Spencer Turnbull have been at or near their best, they’ve been front-line starters, evidenced by Turnbull’s six scoreless innings in Tuesday night’s 8-3 win. When they’re off, as Boyd was on Wednesday, the ripple effects on the bullpen can be damaging.
One of Wednesday’s postgame moves brought back another reliever, lefty Nick Ramirez, who pitched 79 2/3 innings in relief in 46 games for Detroit last year. The other brought back Jordan Zimmermann from the injured list to start Game 2 of Thursday’s doubleheader in St. Louis after Skubal starts Game 1.
What happens with Zimmermann after Thursday remains to be seen; the Tigers don’t have any other doubleheaders scheduled, and with off-days each of the next two Mondays, they won’t need a sixth starter again. But in the short term, they need effective innings from their bullpen -- and the entire team.