With bullpen trouble and hitting each playing roles as concerns of late, the Detroit Tigers needed a big start from an ace and a few clutch knocks to calm some nerves. In a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, that's exactly what they got.
Max Scherzer started off Detroit's pitching on the right foot quickly, striking out the first four batters he saw. He collected two more strikeouts around a Pirates double, setting the tone with six early whiffs which left Pittsburgh frustrated.
Pitching was good for Francisco Liriano, as well. The former member of the Central Division had a 5.99 career ERA against the Tigers, but early, that was not obvious. Liriano kept the Tigers as off balance as Scherzer was keeping Pittsburgh, not allowing a hit through four innings. In the fifth, J.D. Martinez finally broke through with a solo home run for Detroit's 1-0 lead.
Detroit had a chance to add runs in the sixth when the first two runners of the inning reached and the bases were eventually loaded, but the team only added one run on a walk to Martinez, allowing him to collect his second RBI of the game. The missed opportunity wouldn't become fatal, however.
Scherzer stayed strong, fanning 13 batters. It was the third time that Scherzer had struck out 14 hitters or more in a start in his career. He pitched through the eighth inning, allowing the Tigers bullpen to rest. Detroit gave their pen a cushion in the eighth, scoring a run on a Martinez single and error, and adding two more courtesy of Nick Castellanos single. It was 5-0.
Top Tiger: J.D. Martinez. It's hard to not go with Scherzer considering the 14 strikeout outing and great start, but if not for the efforts of J.D. Martinez, where would Detroit have been on this day? His home run put the first run on the board and broke up a no-hitter, his bases loaded walk extended the lead. "The home run was great because we didn't have a bunch of hits today, but that's how we kind of broke through," Ausmus said. "The silence in the dugout immediately went away when J.D. hit that ball, so it was good to get the energy and the life back in the dugout and into the players."
Bungling Bengal: Torii Hunter. Talk about the poster-child for Detroit's offensive struggles lately. Hunter had another rough afternoon going 0-4 with two strikeouts and a pop up. In big spots, Hunter has come up small in 2014. He did so again offensively on this day. Give credit where it's due, though. Hunter made a beautiful catch in right field during the ninth inning, which helped save Joba Chamberlain's bacon.
The Turning Point: Max Scherzer strikes out the side in the first inning. It's rare that momentum shifts so soon, but early on, Scherzer set the tone blowing away the Pirates with relative ease immediately. The rest of the way, Pittsburgh's trouble only got worse. Brad Ausmus knew how vital a good day from Scherzer would be. "(Scherzer's performance) was extremely important, Between the 19 inning game, (Justin) Verlander having to leave the game in the first (inning), and having two young starters go back to back, it was very important," Ausmus said. Quickly, Scherzer set that tone.
Play Of The Game: J.D. Martinez's over the shoulder catch in the fourth inning. With runs at a premium and a runner on second, Josh Harrison crushed a pitch deep, but Martinez somehow tracked it down and made a fantastic running catch up against the wall. The play saved a run from scoring, and provided Martinez's highlight reel something other than a home run. "He made an excellent catch," Ausmus said afterward, lauding the defense first in the middle of speaking about Martinez's clutch hits.
Stat Of The Game: 14, the number of strikeouts Max Scherzer collected. It was a season high, and ironically, the last time he had touched such a number was 2012 against the same Pittsburgh Pirates. There's something in the water when Scherzer takes on Pirates which cause their batters to swing and miss badly, and they probably don't want to see him again any time soon.
Quote To Note: " I talked to Joe, he's completely embarrassed by it, he's never done anything like that before. He feels awful and he knows it was a mistake and I think frankly, he hopes he can go out there and pitch the way he has in past seasons and earn the fans trust back" –Brad Ausmus. Afterwards, Ausmus admitted to seeing Joe Nathan's gesture, and shed some extra light on what Nathan was feeling about his mistake. According to Ausmus, it was a heat of the moment error by the closer that he deeply regrets. Had the score held, Ausmus admits the decision to use Nathan would have caused trepidation, but he likely would have preferred to get the next appearance out of the way quick.
What's Next: The Tigers welcome the Seattle Mariners to town for a three game series over the weekend. The action begins on Friday when Rick Porcello (13-7) takes on James Paxton (2-0). The game begins at 7:08 p.m.
Max DeMara is the editor of @tigers_101. Follow the site there on Twitter, or like it on Facebook to connect with him.
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Tags: Baseball, Brad Ausmus, Detroit, Detroit Tigers, J.D. Martinez, Joba Chamberlain, Joe Nathan, Max Scherzer, MLB, Nick Castellanos, Torii Hunter