ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Detroit Tigers right-hander Alex Faedo took to the mound Monday for his return to Tropicana Field, about 20 miles from his hometown of Tampa and 150 miles from the University of Florida.
It was a homecoming start.
Faedo spent most of his life in Florida and attended many Tampa Bay Rays games as a child. This time, the 26-year-old rookie came into the ballpark — faced 12-year-old MLB veteran Corey Kluber — and allowed just one run as he pitched the sixth inning.
“Step by step,” Faedo said. “Don’t try to think too much about it. Don’t try to do too much. I did my best not to be too anxious there. It was a dream come true. I attended a ton of games here. I could hear the support from the crowd.”
The Tigers beat the Rays, 3-2, in the first of three series clashes to begin a nine-game road trip, extending their winning streak to four games and improving to 13-23 on the season.
“We just tried to win the match of the day,” manager AJ Hinch said. “You’re going to get tired of that quote, but that’s what I believe, that’s what our team believes. … It’s a model franchise, and we took a game from them today and have a chance to win the series tomorrow.”
Faedo, in the third start of his career, put the Tigers in a position to win. Utility player Harold Castro, operating as first baseman, ensured the team did not waste Faedo’s efforts.
In the top of the ninth, Castro smashed a solo home run into right field from Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge, breaking a 2-2 tie. He hit a second pitch fastball in an 0-1 count and sent the ball 400 feet with an exit speed of 103.8 mph.
“You don’t see that a lot in Harold,” Hinch said.
Castro admired his home run and returned his bat.
It was Castro’s first home run this season and the ninth of his five-year MLB career.
“I was just thinking about making hard contact,” Castro said. “I was just trying to get in goal. If I get in goal, I know my teammates behind me can do something. I’m not a home run, so I was just trying to make contact and to put me on target.”
The other big hit for the Tigers: Jonathan Schoop in the fourth inning. He smashed a two-run home run on Kluber’s lead. Miguel Cabrera, who scored on the long ball, started the inning with a single.
The home run, Schoop’s third of the year, gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead. Schoop activated Kluber’s second pitch to the plate, hitting the ball 404 feet with an exit speed of 105.5 mph.
“Great swing,” Hinch said. “He had some good shots. …His numbers don’t do him justice right now. We know that. He knows that. But he should go home pretty happy today with a big swing.”
Kluber allowed two runs on four walks without a walk in six innings. He recorded eight strikeouts. Faedo replied with 5⅔ innings on the run, allowing four hits and one walk with four strikeouts.
Faedo threw 56 of 83 pitches for strikes.
“I just want to go when it’s my turn to throw and give us a chance to win,” Faedo said. “Focus on one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. It’s better for me mentally.”
The bullpen saves the day
The Tigers controlled a 2-1 lead when Hinch knocked out Faedo, favoring left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin in an important game against left-handed hitter Ji-Man Choi.
The Rays had a runner on first base and two out on sixth.
Chafin needed a throw – an 80 mph slider – to induce an end-of-inning groundout. He came back for the seventh, allowing a first single to Vidal Bruján before Kevin Kiermaier found himself in full force.
Right-hander Alex Lange joined the action to take on Mike Zunino, a right-handed hitter, with a runner at first and one out at seventh.
His first pitch to Zunino, a 95.8 mph lead, resulted in a late-inning double play, as Schoop lined the ball up on the run, walked to second base and completed an off-balance pitch to Castro .
Right-hander Michael Fulmer squandered the 2-1 lead in the eighth on Wander Franco’s sacrifice fly, but southpaw Gregory Soto blocked the Rays, despite a two-out single, for his sixth save.
Faedo solid again
Faedo’s only flaw came in the sixth inning, when Brett Phillips hit a home run off the catwalk. The Tigers contested the field call but were unsuccessful.
Phillips, a left-handed hitter, lit Faedo’s 91.3 mph fastball in a 2-1 count. The home run reduced the Tigers’ advantage to one point. Faedo retired the next two batters – Yandy Diaz and Franco – but a Randy Arozarena single forced his out with two outs.
“He made some quality pitches early on and then mixed his pitches as the outing went on,” Hinch said. “He started throwing sliders, started throwing his change. His fastball was pretty good and got better as he went out.”
The Tigers defense helped Faedo in the second inning.
Choi opened the frame by ambushing Faedo’s first pitch for a brace. Three pitches later, Bruján hit a ground ball to Schoop at second base. Choi attempted to advance to third base on the play, but Schoop returned the ball to Candelario for the forced out. Then, Bruján was caught stealing for the second out, from receiver Tucker Barnhart to shortstop Javier Báez.
“You don’t see that very often on the back throw,” Hinch said of Schoop’s play. “It takes preparation to know the runner. He’s not a fast guy. The ball hits hard on that turf and Schoop has the best arm at second base in the league.
“A lot of things have to go there. It’s a super aggressive game. I love it. To beat this team, we said we had to beat them aggressively. He took that to heart.”
Against Kiermaier, Faedo threw back-to-back substitutions for his fourth and fifth pitches of the battle. The doubling resulted in Kiermaier’s flyout to center field, ending the second inning.
Faedo threw 20 pitches in the first two innings.
He needed 28 pitches in the third inning, despite the first two batters being retired. Franco, the Rays’ most dangerous hitter, stepped in with runners on first and second and two outs.
Franco lined up on a 3-2 change.
“He’s a fucking player,” Faedo said of Franco. “When he’s in the box, that’s the real deal. I was just like, ‘Okay, you gotta plant the corners here. You want to go forward, but you can’t miss the middle of the plaque.’ Tucker called some really good pitches.”
In three starts, Faedo has a 2.87 ERA with four walks and 12 strikeouts in 15⅔ innings.
For his 83 throws on Monday, Faedo used 36 four-seam fastballs (43%), 26 sliders (31%) and 21 changes (25%).
He recorded 14 swings and misses: three fastballs, eight sliders and three changes. It only released nine called keystrokes, one each with its slider and change.
“I was happy with them,” Faedo said of his secondary shots. “We threw a few behind in the counts, a couple 3-2. If you can split throws and not just 2-1, 2-0 has to go to the heat, and the catcher believes you can really locate a good , that will really help.
“Being able to do that with some changes in the last two games has really helped me a lot.”
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