The Tigers entered today’s game with the American League’s worst bullpen by fWAR (-.2) and ERA (5.25). Therefore, it would stand to reason that, despite their inexplicable prostration in front of one of the worst teams in baseball, the Mariners should have stood a good chance at earning a win on the Tigers bullpen day. Alas, thanks to a poor outing from Justus Sheffield and the Mariners much-more-vaunted bullpen and an even poorer outing by the offense, this was not to be. You will notice a distinct lack of highlights in this recap. That is because, outside of Mitch Haniger taking advantage of the short porch in Comerica Park’s left field (345 feet), there are none. This was just a real stinker, guys.
With below-average velocity on his fastball, Justus’s command has to be near perfect in order for him to get ahead in counts and be able to get to his putaway weapon in his slider. Today showcased what happens when Justus doesn’t have his good command; he consistently fell behind batters, even after initially getting into good counts, and missed his locations, leading to inflated pitch counts—almost 50 pitches to get the first six outs. The slider wasn’t working for him today, either; it arrived flat and higher in the zone and Detroit hitters were not fooled by it, as seen by interminably-pesky/saloon-keeper on the Barbary Coast Jake Rogers hitting a home run on it. Justus was able to use his changeup some, but even that pitch refused to behave, often sailing well out of the zone.
Admittedly, it was a tight zone on both sides and Justus wasn’t helped by some fielding errors from the normally-surehanded Kyle Seager and Donovan Walton, two of which led off the fourth to put runners at the corners with no outs instead of a routine double play. Both those runs scored on a sac fly and a single, but Sheffield didn’t help himself out with a four-pitch walk to Schoop to put two on with just one out, bringing up the always-dangerous Miguel Cabrera. Miggy grounded out for the second out of the inning, bringing up Mariner-killer Eric Haase, who mercifully flew out to end the inning, but not before the Tigers had built a seemingly-insurmountable 5-2 lead. [Narrator: the lead would, in fact, be insurmountable.]
For the offense, the Mariners’ lone run off “starter” Tyler Alexander came on a first-inning Mitch Haniger home run. They threatened damage in the second with a Tom Murphy walk and a Jake Bauers single for his first hit as a Mariner, but stranded them when Taylor Trammell struck out after a nine-pitch battle and Donovan Walton struck out after a seven-pitch battle. Alexander got two outs in the third before allowing a bloop single to Seager, at which point A.J. Hinch got out the hook and brought in Bryan Garcia to retire Ty France first-pitch swinging. Hmm, an A.J. Hinch-led team having inexplicable success against the Mariners, you say?
The Mariners were able to small-ball a run off Garcia in the fourth when Fraley singled, stole second, and then two productive outs got him home. They also got yet another solo homer from Haniger in the fifth off Jason Foley, but that was it for offense on the day, set down by such luminaries as Bryan Garcia and Joe Jimenez. 2017 first-rounder Alex Lange (LSU, acquired in the Castellanos trade), who apparently is a reliever now, pitched in two more strikeouts. Meanwhile, the Mariners bullpen steadily leaked oil in the Motor City, with Anthony Misiewicz surrendering a two-run home run in front of friends and family getting to see the hometown kid pitch against the Tigers for the first time and Yacksel Ríos again fighting his command, walking two and allowing an RBI triple to Jake Rogers, who took a break from squiring gentlefolk about on his steam-powered penny-farthing to get the hard parts of the cycle. Look, I don’t know why the 2021 Tigers play like the 1927 Yankees against the Mariners, nor do I care to. I’m just glad it’s over with for this season. And now [grits teeth] on to Cleveland.