February 2, 2023

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Tigers' lineup searching for centerpiece bat

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DETROIT — Ballpark wedding proposals have become a regularity over the years, but one Tigers fan at Comerica Park on Saturday took it a step further: He proposed to get married at the ballpark, right then and there.

The Tigers would have loved to connect on that big of a swing Saturday. Shane Bieber wasn’t having it, which is a big reason why Alex Faedo’s latest strong outing went to waste in an 8-1 loss to the Guardians. But it has been a challenge for longer than a Saturday afternoon on a holiday weekend, and it’s not something that Riley Greene’s eventual arrival or another prospect’s call-up will solve alone.

As back-to-back walks loaded the bases for Guardians All-Star and MVP candidate José Ramírez in the seventh inning, the outcome seemed inevitable. Tigers manager A.J. Hinch brought in reliever Jason Foley, but asking a rookie reliever to inherit a bases-loaded jam is a challenge. Once Ramírez worked into a 2-0 count, declining to chase back-to-back sinkers down and out of the strike zone, Foley was stuck.

“When you fall behind him like we did with the bases loaded, it’s a death sentence,” Hinch said.

Foley’s 2-0 sinker was at the bottom edge of the strike zone. Ramírez ripped it down the line at 110.1 miles per hour, according to Statcast, and into the right-field corner. The bases-clearing triple made it 5-0. With Bieber at 64 pitches through six scoreless innings, the game was pretty much decided.

Ramírez added a two-run home run in the ninth for good measure, completing a 2-for-4, five-RBI performance that furthered his career line against Detroit. His 114 games against the Tigers read like an MVP season: A .329 average (134-for-407), 32 doubles, 10 triples, 24 home runs and 92 RBIs. He has drawn more walks from Detroit pitching (57) than he has struck out (48), even if you take away six intentional walks.

The Tigers do not have a hitter who can carry their team like that right now. They’ve relied more on a pass-the-baton attack, with different contributors. Miguel Cabrera had a pair of RBI singles to beat Cleveland on Thursday, including a walk-off hit in the ninth. Harold Castro homered twice on Wednesday in Minnesota before Jeimer Candelario hit a go-ahead two-run homer in extra innings. Jonathan Schoop heated up over the first half of their last road trip. For the most part, however, Detroit hasn’t had a hot hitter to ride.

The Tigers hoped Javier Báez could ignite their offense, which he did early in the season, but he’s trying to find his swing. Cabrera leads the team in hits (42), RBIs (18) and total bases (57), and he left Saturday’s game with lower back tightness, putting his status in question.

“It slipped up on him his last at-bat,” said Hinch, who used Eric Haase to pinch-hit for Cabrera in the eighth inning. “Hopefully it’s day to day, but I’m not sure yet.”

Ramírez led the Majors with 48 RBIs at the game’s end. Saturday marked his fifth game driving in four or more runs. The Tigers, who have scored 123 runs, have had one such game, a four-RBI performance from Báez on April 26 at Minnesota.

They had their chances for more runs on Saturday. Their eight hits against Bieber were two more than they had against him last Sunday in Cleveland, and one off their highest totals off him from Sept. 16, 2018, when they roughed up the then-rookie for five runs in six innings. But only one hit off him Saturday went for extra bases, a Harold Castro leadoff double in the seventh that led to Detroit’s lone run on a Willi Castro sacrifice fly.

“We tried to be aggressive,” Hinch said. “We saw him five days ago and he just challenged us in the strike zone and did a good job. His secondary stuff was really good today.”

For just the fourth time since 2014, the Tigers posted 10 hits while only scoring one or no runs. Two of those games have happened in the last month. Despite double-digit hits, Detroit went just five at-bats with runners in scoring positions. The lone hit was Daz Cameron’s infield single to load the bases with two outs in the fifth for Tucker Barnhart, who struck out.

“I didn’t [get it done] twice with the bases loaded today, so I accumulated a lot of negative for us,” Barnhart said. “When a team beats you and you have opportunities, myself included twice, it’s tough. It’s just one of those days where thankfully we have a chance to win the series.”

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