DETROIT — As newly converted starter Bryan Garcia walked off the mound after a wild but effective four innings on Friday night, there was a lot to consider. Would he be met with high-fives after keeping the Rays scoreless? Or would the dugout celebration be tempered because he’d walked so many batters?
Tigers pitcher Tyler Alexander split the difference, spreading the fingers one hand wide for Garcia to slap, but not before also waggling one finger from the other hand nearby. Six fingers, one for each of Garcia’s six walks.
Unfortunately, what was meant as a lighthearted moment after Garcia escaped damage foreshadowed a much less cheerful end to a night when Detroit’s pitchers combined to issue 13 walks, just two shy of a franchise high for a nine-inning game.
What’s worse, they turned a strong offensive start into a 5-3 loss to the Rays.
“You’re happy to get away [with the walks]but you’re not going to be very successful in the long run if you keep doing that,” Garcia said of his outing.
The relievers who followed him weren’t quite as fortunate. After Garcia’s exit, a trio of walks and a two-out double stung Will Vest in the fifth and led to Tampa Bay’s first run. The most damning free passes, though, came in the eighth.
Joe Jiménez relieved Andrew Chafin with two outs in the seventh and the Tigers up, 3-2. Though Jiménez walked the first hitter he faced, he managed to close the frame without trouble and earned the right to go back out for the eighth. Trouble started right away though, with the veteran reliever failing to register an out before he got the hook.
“[Tonight was] unbelievable,” manager AJ Hinch said. “I don’t even know, really, how to describe it. It’s unusual in the game, it’s certainly unusual for our staff. We had a hard time from the get-go.
“… You feel pretty good about yourself when you escape, except you’re rolling the lineup time after time after time and giving them more at-bats. Eventually, the game won’t let you make that many mistakes, especially with the fastball. That was a bad night on the mound.”
Jiménez walked the first two hitters he saw before allowing a two-run double to Brandon Lowe that put the Rays ahead for good, followed by an insurance-run-scoring single to Isaac Paredes, who was making his first trip to Comerica Park since he joined Tampa Bay from Detroit in exchange for Austin Meadows on April 4.
Paredes has blossomed with the Rays this season, while Meadows — who was expected to bolster the outfield — has fallen victim to myriad injuries that have limited him to just 36 games. While the Tigers could certainly have benefited from a bat like Meadows, who had 106 RBIs in 2021, the pitching was what needed the most help Friday.
“Tonight was a recipe for a rough one for us, not throwing many strikes against a lineup that doesn’t chase pitches outside of the zone,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “[It’s] an anomaly for a bullpen that’s been lights-out virtually all year.”
Garcia, who became the first Tigers starter with four or fewer innings, six-plus walks and zero runs allowed since Tommy Bridges on July 28, 1932, was optioned to Triple-A Toledo following the game as he continues his conversion from the bullpen. While he didn’t go the five or six innings Hinch and the relief corps had hoped for, Garcia’s late rebound was still worthy of recognition.
By the time the third inning rolled around, Garcia had found his mark. He sat down the side in order on 10 pitches, punctuating it with a six-pitch battle with David Peralta that ended with Peralta looking at a called strike 3.
“I’ve seen [Garcia] have some struggles and then implode, so that is a takeaway for him,” Hinch said. “Obviously, you can’t take the walks back, but being able to get out of it and pitch out of it and find yourself, whether he’s squeezing the ball too hard, or whether he’s just trying to make perfect pitches, nibbling. He was able to compete, so that’s a nice segue.”
With the loss, the Tigers tied the A’s for most defeats (66) in the American League.