Detroit Tigers' Wily Peralta deals 7 scoreless innings in 2-0 win over Tampa Bay Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Wily Peralta earned a firm handshake from Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch upon the completion of his 13th consecutive scoreless inning over two starts. This time, he excelled against the American League-best Tampa Bay Rays.

The 32-year-old right-hander — considered washed up when looking for work this past offseason — delivered six scoreless innings on Sept. 14 at Comerica Park. His strong effort set the tone in an extra innings win over the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers.

Peralta returned to the mound Sunday and blanked the Rays over seven innings at Tropicana Field, leading the way in the Tigers' 2-0 win in the series finale to complete a four-game split. Detroit is 63-54 since May 8 and 32-27 since the All-Star break.

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Tigers pitcher Wily Peralta throws a pitch during the first inning against the Rays on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Tigers pitcher Wily Peralta throws a pitch during the first inning against the Rays on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Over the past nine games, Hinch's squad has played seven games against the Rays and two against the Brewers, the teams with the third- and fourth-best records in baseball, respectively. The Tigers finished the span with a 6-3 record.

The Tigers (72-78) scored the only run they needed in the fourth inning, when Eric Haase slugged a 438-foot home run to center for a 1-0 lead. His 22nd home run came off Rays starter Shane McClanahan, who pitched five innings of one-run ball.

McClanahan struck out seven and allowed just two hits and two walks.

Tigers left fielder Eric Haase celebrates with third base coach Ramon Santiago after hitting a home run against the Rays during the fourth inning on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Tigers left fielder Eric Haase celebrates with third base coach Ramon Santiago after hitting a home run against the Rays during the fourth inning on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Listed on the roster as a catcher, Haase started in left field for Sunday's finale.

That's because Hinch wanted catcher Dustin Garneau in the lineup and behind the plate. The decision paid off, as Garneau paced Peralta through his dominant performance and chipped in an insurance run in the seventh inning.

Garneau, a 34-year-old veteran, hammered a 405-foot solo home run to left field off reliever Nick Anderson, pushing the Tigers' lead to 2-0. He has a career-high six home runs in 15 games. His previous best was three home runs across 35 games with the Los Angeles Angels (28 games) and Oakland Athletics (7 games) in 2019.

Following Peralta's seven innings, the Tigers turned to lefty reliever Derek Holland. He gave up a single to Mike Zunino but quickly picked up two outs. As Nelson Cruz strolled into the batter's box, Hinch called on 25-year-old rookie Jason Foley.

Foley tossed back-to-back wild pitches and walked Cruz on five pitches, putting runners on the corners. With Foley struggling to throw strikes in his first high-leverage opportunity, Garneau threw out pinch-runner Kevin Kiermaier trying to steal second base — ending the eighth inning.

Righty reliever Kyle Funkhouser pitched a scoreless ninth for his first career save.

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Peralta's formula

In his 17th big-league game (16 starts) this season, Peralta shut down the Rays with his splitter and an abundance of ground-ball outs. He lowered his season-long ERA to 3.04 over 83 innings, with 32 walks and 52 strikeouts.

Tampa Bay had its best chance to score against him in the fifth inning, when runners stood on the corners with two outs: Yandy Diaz drew a four-pitch walk and Zunino singled. Needing one pitch against leadoff hitter Brandon Lowe, Peralta escaped the jam.

Lowe made weak contact on Peralta's splitter at the bottom of the strike zone, and third baseman Jeimer Candelario tossed him out at first base.

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Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe slides safely into second base, beating the throw to Tigers shortstop Niko Goodrum during the third inning on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe slides safely into second base, beating the throw to Tigers shortstop Niko Goodrum during the third inning on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Peralta induced inning-ending double plays in the first and second innings to work out of trouble. In the first, Cruz ground into a 5-4-3 double play. Peralta got ahead 0-2 to Ji-Man Choi to start the second but walked him on seven pitches. He then hit Randy Arozarena with a first-pitch sinker.

But after Joey Wendle flied out, Diaz grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.

Once Zunino singled in the fifth to put runners on the corners, Peralta retired seven of the final eight batters he faced to conclude his start. The only player to reach was Cruz in the sixth inning. Peralta should have struck him out, but catcher interference by Garneau allowed the slugger to reach safely.

Peralta has completed seven scoreless innings three times this season. Before 2021, however, he had not thrown seven scoreless in a start since Aug. 15, 2015, as a 26-year-old with the Brewers in his fourth MLB season.

The nine-year veteran threw 100 pitches (61 strikes): 46 sinkers, 26 splitters, 15 sliders and 13 four-seam fastballs. He worked 12 swings and misses — including four with his sinker and six with his splitter — and 15 called strikes.

His fastball averaged 94.5 mph.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' Wily Peralta deals in 2-0 win over Tampa Bay Rays