Tigers still trying to solve roller-coaster offense

June 16th, 2024

HOUSTON -- Riley Greene is as much of a believer in momentum as anyone on the ballfield, but to his credit, he kept his emotions in check after the Tigers churned out 13 runs on 19 hits against Astros pitching on Saturday afternoon.

"I’m going to enjoy it today,” he said of his four-hit game, “but tomorrow’s a new day. You never know in this game.”

He was being realistic, not clairvoyant. But ahead of Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Houston at Minute Maid Park, he had pretty much summed up the Tigers offense.

One day after Greene, Wenceel Pérez and Colt Keith had four hits each, Pérez’s line-drive single into center field in the eighth inning marked Detroit’s first hit on Sunday. The Tigers were four outs away from suffering their first no-hitter since the Marlins' Henderson Alvarez blanked them on the final day of the 2013 regular season.

The Tigers have ridden this roller coaster already. They’ve scored double-digit runs six times this season. Sunday marked the first time they’ve scored fewer than four runs in the game after scoring in double digits, but they’ve also scored more than four runs in such circumstances twice (with one of those coming three days later against a different opponent thanks to an off-day and a rainout).

The ups and downs are a sign of a young lineup, and among the reasons the Tigers haven’t won more than four games in a row since starting the year 5-0, and have just three winning streaks since the start of May -- a two-gamer, a three-gamer and a four-game streak.

But as Hall of Fame manager Jim Leyland liked to say during his time in the dugout, momentum is as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. And Ronel Blanco, moved up a day to start, was good on Sunday, holding Detroit hitless for seven innings as he tried for his second no-hitter of the season.

“We did battle,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “We obviously couldn't get anything started against him. The three walks, you have a chance with two outs but he wiggled out of it. And then he just continued to hit spots and throw a lot of different pitches. He's been really good all year. He's kind of having a breakout year. We knew we were going to need to try to create some pressure on him and get some innings going, and with no hits, it's hard.”

The Tigers’ best opportunity actually came when they tried patience. After six swinging strikeouts in a seven-batter span from the third inning into the fifth, Blanco walked Gio Urshela, Akil Baddoo and Carson Kelly consecutively. Baddoo, who walked twice in a six-run second inning in Saturday’s win, hunted fastballs in the strike zone and stayed away from everything else, declining to offer at a 3-2 changeup high and outside.

Kelly fell into an 0-2 hole but didn’t see another pitch in the strike zone, working a walk to load the bases for Zach McKinstry. After a mound visit, Blanco flipped a first-pitch curveball into the zone, then spotted a changeup on the outer edge that McKinstry hit into center for a fly out to end the threat.

Detroit’s only other baserunner off Blanco was Urshela, whose ground ball to third led to an errant throw from Alex Bregman in Blanco’s seventh and final inning. Ryan Pressly gave the Tigers a different look, but Pérez saw the same approach and took advantage.

“They were throwing me offspeed the whole game, so I was prepared for it,” he said. “I know that Pressly's a guy that uses his spin a lot, so I was ready for that. …

“As a hitter, you never want to play in a no-hitter. So when I was in the box, I just had to break the no-hitter right here.”

Mark Canha and Andy Ibáñez broke up the shutout bid an inning later off Houston closer Josh Hader with back-to-back hits, including an Ibáñez RBI double off the left-field wall. Another pinch-hitter, Jake Rogers, struck out against Hader to end the game with the potential tying run on deck.

So while the Tigers avoided history, they still have work to do to change their mercurial offensive ways and sustain some consistent production. As Hinch explained before the game about Greene and his approach, coaches constantly reinforce key points to keep hitters on task, focusing on common denominators to their good at-bats and results.

Ultimately, though, it’s up to the hitters.