DETROIT Cabrera, Fielder, Peralta? How about Sanchez, Fister and Scherzer?
The talk heading into the Tampa Bay Rays’ series with Detroit centered around the Tigers offense and Miguel Cabrera’s quest for another Triple Crown.
But the Rays left town talking about the trio of Tigers starters who over the three games shut down what had been a pretty productive offense before it reached Comerica Park.
On Thursday, it was Max Scherzer’s turn. The result was a 5-2 Detroit victory that enabled the Tigers to win the series between two teams expecting to reach the postseason.
“It’s one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. We didn’t even face their ace,” Matt Joyce said, referring to Detroit’s Justin Verlander.
Scherzer held the Rays to four hits and a run over seven innings to improve to 8-0. The right-hander kept the ball out of the middle of the plate, working the corners instead. He mixed his pitches and mixed his velocity.
“He had phenomenal stuff,” Joyce said. “I really felt like I had only one pitch to hit all day from him, and when a pitcher is able to do that, you got to tip your cap.”
On Wednesday, it was Doug Fister, who became the tough-luck loser after throwing eight scoreless innings only to see that wiped out when the Rays scored three times in the ninth.
The series began Tuesday, when Anibal Sanchez held the Rays to a run on four hits over seven innings.
“They were really on point, I thought,” Ben Zobrist said. “I don’t think anybody saw that many great pitches to hit the last three days.”
Cabrera? He got his hits, five of them actually. But they were all singles, and he drove in only one run.
“That’s the thing when we play Detroit, my concern is they have a chance to out-pitch you,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We normally have it go the other way, but they’re that good among their starters.”
“They might have the best starting pitching in the American League, from what I see,” Maddon said.
Scherzer struck out Evan Longoria three times Thursday on his way to a nine-strikeout afternoon.
“I didn’t see him at all,” Longoria said. “He pretty much dominated me and did a good number on us as a team.”
Said Maddon, “That’s a great indicator of how good his stuff was. When Longo has that tough of a day, the pitcher’s pretty darn good.”
The Rays countered with Roberto Hernandez. Maddon was hoping Hernandez would carry the momentum from his strong performance in Miami on the first night of this trip, when Hernandez came within an out of a complete-game victory.
Hernandez started strong but allowed a two-run homer in the fourth to Victor Martinez. The Tigers made it 3-0 when Cabrera singled home Don Kelly in the fifth.
In all, Hernandez went 5 1/3 innings and allowed four runs on 10 hits. Maddon pulled Hernandez in the bottom of the sixth with runners on the corners for Jake McGee, hoping McGee could keep it 4-1 and give the Rays a chance to rally against the Tigers bullpen.
But McGee allowed a sacrifice fly, and the best the Rays could do was an RBI single by James Loney in the eighth — his second RBI hit of the game — off former Ray Joaquin Benoit.
Maddon said Hernandez pitched well, allowing two hard-hit balls all afternoon — the home run to Martinez and Cabrera’s hit.
“Otherwise he did not get beat up at all,” Maddon said.
Said catcher Jose Molina, “I think he pitched good, extremely good. I think it was one of those bad-luck losses.”
Take away Alex Cobb’s shutdown start in Wednesday’s win and the Rays nearly found themselves swept. This was a team that scored five, nine and 11 runs in their last three wins prior to the series, yet they hardly threatened the Tigers’ pitching.
“We, for the most part, have been doing a pretty good job of scoring runs, putting up runs more often than not,” Joyce said. “This series, it seemed like they were putting the ball where they wanted to with the pitches they wanted to. When you’re able to do that, change speeds, throw strikes with everything, it makes it pretty tough to hit.”