Roaring Tigers grab sweep with 19-hit attack
Cabrera plates three runs in season-high sixth straight win
DETROIT -- Thursday's game could have been drastically different for the Tigers. In the first and second innings, starter Jeremy Bonderman didn't have control of his fastball, and he left four pitches hanging up in the strike zone that were clobbered by Nationals hitters
The four deep hits would have been home runs in most ballparks, and it looked like it was going to be a long day for Bonderman. Instead, the Tigers defense came up big and made four clutch catches at the warning track. From there, it was all Detroit, as the Tigers tallied a season-high 19 hits and pummeled the Nationals, 8-3, to earn the series sweep. With the win, the Tigers earned back-to-back home sweeps and pulled within 1 1/2 games of the Twins for first place in the American League Central.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
"I think Jeremy was very good," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I think he pitched on the right day, because the ball was being held up by the wind. I think if you ask him, he'd say the same thing. Some days that kind of stuff works for you, some days it works against you. Early on they hit some balls pretty deep that were caught [and] stayed in the ballpark today."
While Bonderman (3-4) racked up his fifth quality start in his last six outings -- going seven innings and giving up two runs on five hits while striking out seven -- the Tigers' offense was spraying the ball all over Comerica Park en route to the club's season-high sixth straight win.
And for the first time this homestand, the Tigers didn't record a home run. They didn't need it. Detroit recorded at least one hit in every inning, except the fourth, and every Tigers starter recorded a multihit game, minus Don Kelly.
But Kelly made his presence felt in the field. He started in center field for the second consecutive game in place of an injured Austin Jackson. He filled in nicely and came up with a catch to rob the Nationals' second batter of the game, Roger Bernadina, of extra bases, crumbling into the wall in left-center field.
"It was unbelievable," Bonderman said of Kelly's catch. "This is a team effort. It doesn't matter what I do. You have to have the guys behind you. Donny made a heck of a play and that was big early in the game. Sometimes you just need a little luck on your side."
Bonderman took control of his fastball after three more Nationals hits fell just short of leaving the yard. He had a no-hit bid going through 3 2/3 innings, retiring the first 11 hitters he faced, much to the credit of increased velocity on his fastball.
"I'm getting firmer," Bonderman said. "I didn't expect to coming into this year, honestly."
Catcher Alex Avila has noticed Bonderman's increased velocity, too.
"He's throwing it harder in his last couple starts," Avila said. "He had very good movement. His slider was very good and sharp today. He threw some good changeups, and we were able to keep them off balance."
The Tigers' starting pitching completely shut down the Nationals in the series. The starters owned a 27-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio and combined to go 21 innings, allowing only eight earned runs. The longevity of their outings gave the bullpen a nice break, as well.
"We've [been] pitching well as a staff," Bonderman said. "We've been pitching deep into games, and giving the bullpen a break. We aren't using some of the guys that we were early in the year. That's big, because we are going to have stretches where we don't throw the ball as well."
But Thursday's game was all about the Tigers' bats. Detroit had fallen behind in every game through the six-game winning streak. Not on Thursday.
"I just thought, we put pretty good swings on the ball," Leyland said of his team's 19 hits. "We got some good pitches to hit today, and we hit them. It was just one of those days where it was probably a little contagious."
"A little" may be an understatement from the skipper. The Tigers' hitters looked like they were swinging at a beach ball from the plate.
First baseman Miguel Cabrera led the way with three RBIs to increase his Major League-leading total to 59 and shortstop Ramon Santiago made an adjustment to his swing before the game, and he went 4-for-4 with three runs scored.
The score could have been even more lopsided if long shots by Cabrera and Avila had left the yard. Both had two runners on base when knocking balls to the warning track, yet both settled for two-run doubles, when both balls fell just short.
Getting the catchers going offensively was a major concern for Leyland entering the homestand, and both have answered the call. Avila has posted a .385 average with six RBIs in his nine games in June, while Laird is hitting .400 in his past four starts.
"I just think they've finally loosened up a little bit," Leyland said of his catchers. "I think they were both pressing a little bit early on. Everybody was making a big deal about the bottom of the order and not getting much from the bottom of the order. I think they finally started to relax a little bit. They are swinging much better right now."
The Tigers recorded seven or more runs in every game of the series against the Nationals, a much needed offensive outpouring after the team's struggles from the dish in late May and early June.
But for third baseman Brandon Inge, the Tigers' bats weren't that bad during that stretch. They were just suffering from bad luck.
"There was a lot of hype two weeks ago about offense and lack of production," Inge said. "We were hitting the ball well, it was just going right at people. You can twist that around any way you want. When you aren't putting up runs, you aren't putting up runs. We will take the blame for it. At the same time, we aren't doing anything different. We are putting good at-bats [together] now. We can be dangerous when things start falling in there."
Alex DiFilippo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.