Why the Detroit Tigers had a 'mediocre day' according to manager AJ Hinch

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Detroit Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd had quickly defined himself as a strike thrower this season en route to a 1.94 ERA through seven starts entering Sunday's outing against the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs took notice of that, swinging early and often in counts, eventually breaking through for a three-run sixth inning. The Tigers (14-26) lost, 5-1, in the series finale. Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks fired eight-plus innings of one-run ball. His offense applied pressure on the bases, and the Tigers made too many mistakes.

"Their game plan was to ambush (Boyd) because of all your guy's articles about first pitch strikes finally caught up to us," Hinch joked after Sunday's loss. "I don't mind them swinging, and Boyd needs to continue to throw strikes, but then they ended up getting a couple of hits, we gave a couple extra bases away and they created their own rallies."

Boyd added: "They were coming out pretty aggressive."

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Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd throws against the Cubs during the first inning on Sunday, May 16, 2021, at Comerica Park.
Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd throws against the Cubs during the first inning on Sunday, May 16, 2021, at Comerica Park.

Just as Boyd likes to, Hendricks threw a lot of first-pitch strikes; he struck out eight batters and avoided two-ball counts, leaving the Tigers struggling to gain momentum against him. Despite eight hits, Detroit finished 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

When Harold Castro and Miguel Cabrera reached with consecutive singles in the first, Nomar Mazara grounded into an inning-ending double play. Later, doubles from Robbie Grossman in the sixth, Jonathan Schoop in the seventh and Eric Haase in the eighth were wasted.

Hendricks needed 19 pitches in the first frame but then found a rhythm.

Castro and Cabrera finally hit back-to-back singles again in the ninth to chase Hendricks. He threw 76 of his 105 pitches for strikes, while Boyd fired 69 of his 92 pitches for strikes. Reliever Dan Winkler got three outs in a row, but Schoop's force out drove in the Tigers' lone run.

"The art of pitching is still around in the game," Hinch said. "It comes out through pitchers like Hendricks. He can change pace, he locates, he gives you just enough of the plate to entice soft contact. We tried to wait him out and be pretty disciplined, and then we found ourselves in two-strike counts.

"Our opportunity was at the beginning of the game. We couldn't crack him."

[ Detroit Tigers can't solve Chicago Cubs, Kyle Hendricks in 5-1 loss of series finale ]

But the Cubs eventually cracked Boyd's code, thanks to help from poor defense. Of the first nine batters, five of them swung at the first pitch. Once they set this precedent, Boyd mixed his pitches well — 37 fastballs, 24 changeups, 20 sliders and 10 curveballs — and didn't shy away from pounding the strike zone.

Boyd used eight pitches in the first inning, 14 in the second, 18 in the third, 20 in the fourth, 12 in the fifth and 20 in the sixth. He recorded 14 swings and misses: six with his four-seam fastball, three with his changeup and five with his slider.

"If that's their game plan, you welcome it and go, 'OK, well I can do some other things, too,'" Boyd said. "I've got four pitches I can throw for strikes. You just read what they're going to do and then you counter."

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Tigers shortstop Niko Goodrum forces out during Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras during the third inning on Sunday, May 16, 2021, at Comerica Park.
Tigers shortstop Niko Goodrum forces out during Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras during the third inning on Sunday, May 16, 2021, at Comerica Park.

In the third inning, Kris Bryant grounded into a force out, eliminating Willson Contreras at second base. But shortstop Niko Goodrum's attempt to turn a double play wasn't in time, and Schoop made a wild throw from first to home, allowing Ian Happ to score easily for a 1-0 lead.

In the second inning, Goodrum made his fifth error in the past nine games. In the fourth, third baseman Harold Castro committed a two-out error to extend the inning and bring Happ to the plate with runners on first and second. Happ doubled to center to give the Cubs a 2-0 edge.

"We didn't play clean," Hinch said. "We did give away 90 feet here and there, and it obviously was part of the difference in the game."

Boyd wasn't hit hard, though, until the sixth inning. Matt Duffy and David Bote reached with a single and double, respectively, for a 3-0 lead. Bote advanced to third base when Grossman missed the cut-off man on a throw from left, and scored on Nico Hoerner's one-out sacrifice fly.

Before Boyd's final out in the sixth inning, Happ attacked a fastball up and away for a solo home run and a 5-0 lead. It was the second homer allowed by Boyd this season. He paced the major leagues with 39 home runs in 2019 and the American League with 15 in 2020.

"I was trying to go down and away and I missed up and away," Boyd said. "The fact of the matter is the pitch wasn't executed. If he hit the executed pitch for a home run, then I can really say something. There's always other options, I just could've executed the pitch that I did throw better."

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Boyd has a 2.45 ERA after eight starts and allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits and one walk, with eight strikeouts, in six innings. Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez combined to finish 1-for-9 — striking out five times — against the Tigers' best starter.

"I thought he pitched better than the line and better than the score," Hinch said. "He had to battle a little bit. He had a couple of at-bats that he would want back. All in all, it was just a mediocre day across the board for our whole team."

Lange to Toledo

The Tigers optioned right-handed reliever Alex Lange to Triple-A Toledo after Sunday's game, the team announced. A corresponding move will be made before Monday's 10:10 p.m. contest against the Seattle Mariners.

Catcher Wilson Ramos (lumbar spine strain) is expected to be activated from the injured list for the beginning of the three-game series. The Tigers could carry three catchers: Ramos, Haase and Jake Rogers. (Hinch is starting Haase in left field Monday.)

Lange, 25, has an 8.03 ERA, four walks and 16 strikeouts in 12⅔ innings across 14 appearances. He has allowed five home runs and thrown five wild pitches.

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: Why the Detroit Tigers had a 'mediocre day' according to AJ Hinch