Tigers rally from 6-0 deficit but lose in 10 innings against Guardians

Chris McCosky, The Detroit News on

Published in Baseball

DETROIT — The Tigers had Kenta Maeda’s back Tuesday night.

The struggling veteran was KO’d in the third inning and left his team in a 6-0 hole.

But a two-run home run by Colt Keith in the third, a three-run homer by Gio Urshela and a solo shot by Justyn-Henry Malloy in the sixth brought the Tigers back to even, 7-7, and the game went into extra innings.

The Central Division-leading Cleveland Guardians prevailed. Josh Naylor, who had homered and singled in a run off Maeda earlier, dropped a single to center in the 10th to break the tie and help the Guardians snap the Tigers' four-game win streak, 9-8, at Comerica Park.

Jhonkensy Noel followed Naylor's hit with a sacrifice fly to left off reliever Will Vest.

The Tigers mounted one more comeback. This one against Cleveland closer Emmanuel Clase. Carson Kelly's sacrifice fly scored the free runner in the bottom of the 10th to make it a one-run game. Gio Urshela, who had a three-hit night, and Wenceel Perez singled, putting runners on the corners.

But Clase ended it right there, getting Justyn-Henry Malloy to fly to center.

The Tigers have now lost eight straight games started by Maeda.

Keith has been on a tear. He got two hits Tuesday and scored twice. His homer, a pull-shot on a first-pitch change-up from Guardians starter Ben Lively, was his eighth on the year and fifth in the last 14 games.

It extended his hitting streak to seven games as he has seemingly found a home in the No. 2 spot in the batting order, where’s he hit .356 (21 for 59) with five homers and 10 RBIs.

Urshela accounted for the third Tigers run, tripling and scoring on a ground out by Perez in the fourth inning.

Keith and Carson Kelly singled ahead of Urshela in the sixth. In between those singles, Lively was hit in the leg with an 82-mph drive off Riley Greene’s bat. He stayed in the game, but he put a first-pitch sinker in Urshela’s happy zone and he sent it off the bullpen roof in left.

It was Urshela’s third homer and ended Lively’s night.

One out later, Malloy jumped a first-pitch slider off reliever Nick Sandlin and lined it into the seats in left.

Sandlin hit Javier Báez in the butt with his next pitch and Báez was furious. He took a step toward Sandlin but Guardians catcher Austin Hedges cooled him off, as did first baseman Josh Naylor. Manager AJ Hinch was already on his way to the plate.

Nothing came of it.

Credit the Tigers' bullpen for keeping the game in reach.

Lefty Joey Wentz ate up 2 1/3 innings (allowing a run with three strikeouts) and then Beau Brieske kept the Guardians off the board through the eighth. Though he got a little help from lefty Andrew Chafin.


With one out in the eighth, Brieske took a 96-mph comebacker off his leg hit by Angel Martinez. Third baseman Zach McKinstry fielded the carom and threw out Martinez but Steven Kwan, who reached on an infield single, moved to second.

Hinch came out to the mound and brought in Chafin. He might’ve been contemplating that move anyway. The dangerous Jose Ramirez was due up and left-handed hitting Naylor after that.

Hinch, for the second time in the game, issued a intentional walk to Ramirez, who got three hits in his first three at-bats. Hinch had issued just two free passes previously all year. Hinch put him on again in the 10th — three times. He'd never in his managerial career walked a hitter three times.

But the strategy got compromised when Chafin walked Naylor to load the bases. Chafin was able to defuse the situation, getting Noel to fly to left.

Chafin struck out the first two batters in the ninth before handing the baton to Vest. After an opposite-field single by Tyler Freeman, Vest dispatched Bo Naylor on a fly to left.

But about Maeda. The juxtaposition was inescapable.

On the day he became just the third Japanese-born pitcher to record 1,000 strikeouts in the major leagues — a reminder of the pitcher he’s been throughout his career — he left the field to a chorus of boos, unable to get through three innings.

He seemed defenseless against the Guardians' hitters.

He didn’t survive the fourth inning in his previous start at Minnesota, allowing nine runs in 3 2/3 innings. This time, he allowed six in 2 2/3 innings. He faced 14 hitters and seven of them got hits. The 12 balls the Guardians put in play against him had an average exit velocity of 95 mph.

His milestone strikeout — catching Hedges looking in the second — was Maeda’s lone clean inning.

A 7.26 ERA after 16 starts certainly isn’t what club president Scott Harris had in mind when he signed the 36-year-old this winter for two years and $24 million. Maeda is on the books for $14 million this season and $10 million in 2025.

He’s put the Tigers in a bind. They’re not likely to buy out his contract this soon and he would have to agree to a demotion to Triple-A.

Putting him in the bullpen is problematic, too. That’s not the best environment for him to work through the multitude of issues he’s battling right now (command, sharpness of his secondary pitches) with the limited usage and it would effectively leave the bullpen one man short.

To move Maeda to the bullpen would mean one of the current eight relievers would have to go, and that most likely would be Wentz. And Wentz, being out of minor league options, would have to be designated for assignment and exposed to the waiver wire.

There are no easy answers.

Maeda would be on track to pitch Sunday against the Dodgers, the day before the All-Star break. It seems more likely the Tigers would deploy a bullpen game for that day.

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