In A.J. Hinch’s words, on Thursday, the Detroit Tigers found another way to lose, falling 3-1 to the Texas Rangers.
Detroit’s bullpen had been used so frequently earlier in the week, Hinch needed to use three position players to pitch on Wednesday. On Thursday, Beau Brieske tried to do the heavy lifting himself.
The rookie turned in the best performance of his career, with seven shutout innings on three hits and two walks with six strikeouts.
The 24-year-old threw 94 pitches — 63 for strikes — and generated 13 swings and misses, six of which came on his slider in 17 pitches.
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That gave the offense time to get him a lead; Robbie Grossman hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning to put the Tigers up, 1-0.
It looked like that would be enough until the ninth inning. Gregory Soto walked leadoff hitter Corey Seager, hit Kole Calhoun with a pitch and walked Nathaniel Lowe to bring up Ezequiel Duran with two outs and the bases loaded.
On a 1-1 pitch, Duran ripped a triple down the right-field line, plating three and propelling the Rangers to a 3-1 victory. The loss drops the Tigers to 24-39.
Brieske was in control from the beginning, opening the game with a 10-pitch first inning, getting three groundball outs.
After a bloop single with two outs in the second, he retired nine straight, getting through the fourth inning at an economical 50 pitches.
That brought him to the fifth and his first adversity of the night.
The Tigers employed a shift against catcher Jonah Heim, who countered by laying a bunt down the third base line for a single. On the next pitch, Lowe laced a single to center, putting runners on first and second with no outs
Next, Duran appeared to ground into a 5-4 double play, but the ball was ruled foul. Two pitches later, Brieske appeared to have thrown a third strike, but home plate umpire Jose Navas ruled it a ball.
Brieske didn’t flinch.
After six-pitch battle, he got Duran to hit a soft line drive to Javier Báez, who then flipped it to Schoop at second to double up Heim.
Brieske then struck out Brad Miller on three pitches — fastball, fastball, slider.
Then, the defense came alive in the sixth inning. Brieske issued a one-out walk to Marcus Semien and started Corey Seager at 2-0.
Semien tried to steal on the next pitch, but was picked off by Brieske, who threw to Spencer Torkelson at first, who relayed it to Báez waiting at second.
Seager then worked a walk, bringing up Adolis Garcia.
On a 1-1 count, Garcia popped up a foul ball that looked as if it would land in the Rangers bullpen. But Torkelson sprinted in, lunged over the guardrail to snare it for the final out.
Brieske worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning with strikeouts of Calhoun and Heim to end his night, making him just the second Tiger this season (Tarik Skubal is the other) to last seven innings.
Offense can’t get the big hit
The Tigers had a few chances, but frequently failed to cash in.
Eric Haase singled to open the third and advanced to second on a groundout.
Miguel Cabrera, who’d already singled in the first, followed by lacing a 107 mph single to right with two outs. Tigers third base coach Ramon Santiago sent Haase home, but Garcia’s throw easily nabbed him.
In the fifth, Haase hit a two-out double to left, but Victor Reyes followed with a groundout to shortstop.
Finally, in the sixth inning. Willi Castro led off with a sharp single to center and two batters later Báez launched an elevated changeup 413 feet to center.
It landed just beyond Leody Tavares’ outstretched arm, bouncing into the shrubs for a ground-rule double.
Up came Grossman, who got into an 0-2 hole before hitting a flyball to right. This time, Castro beat Garcia’s throw to go up 1-0.
Detroit got runners on in the seventh and eighth, but failed to score.
Torkelson worked a one-out walk in the ninth — Detroit had at least one runner in every inning except the fourth — before Harold Castro hit a deep fly ball to left that was caught at the warning track.
Haase, who was 2-for-3 entering his final at-bat, struck out looking to end the game.
For all of the team’s struggles this season, the bullpen has been a bright spot.
Michael Fulmer entered in the eight and worked around a one-out walk to get a strikeout of pinch hitter Sam Huff and a weak flyout from Marcus Semien to get out of the inning.
It’s the ninth consecutive appearance for Fulmer without allowing an earned run, dating back to May 18.
Soto had also been on a heater of late. Since May 13, he’d allowed just one earned run in 14 outings
But Thursday, Soto issued a leadoff walk to Seager, before the grounds crew came in to cleanup the mound. He took a one-hopper from Garcia off his leg in the next at-bat, before getting the force at first.
He hit Calhoun in the next at-bat, bringing Heim to the plate who struck out looking on a ball just below his knees before Lowe walked on five pitches to load the bases.
Contact Tony Garcia at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers collapse in 9th inning, lose to Texas Rangers, 3-1