Tata, Tigers pick up win in opener
Right-hander earns victory in his first Major League start
OAKLAND -- Maybe Kenny Rogers' success here carried over to his rotation spot.
"I want a percentage [of that win]," Rogers joked to Jordan Tata afterwards.
The way the fortunes have gone for the Tigers rotation lately, they could use their share.
Making his first Major League start on a day's notice in place of the injured Rogers, Tata became the unexpected stopper to Detroit's recent pitching struggles. By scattering two runs over seven innings in Monday's 5-2 win over the A's, he became the first Tigers starter to win in nearly two weeks.
And a day that began with Tata awakening way too early to the sound of construction outside his hotel room ended with him helping tear down a four-game losing streak, not to mention put the pieces together for the recovery of a pitching staff that was hit hard in Anaheim.
"He was good," Rogers said. "Can't say enough about him. Couldn't pick a better time to do it."
It wasn't something he had any time to plan, since the Tigers didn't know they'd need him until Sunday. But he also didn't have any time to worry.
"It's been a long couple days," Tata said, "but totally worth it."
Tata was summoned to the Bay Area on Sunday after left elbow inflammation forced Rogers onto the disabled list. The 25-year-old right-hander was scheduled to start Monday for Triple-A Toledo, but he instead spent Sunday night trying to keep his back stretched on a five-hour flight from Detroit.
He finally fell asleep around 2 a.m. local time before the construction woke him up six hours later. Little more than six hours after that, he walked into the visiting clubhouse at McAfee Coliseum with still four and a half hours left before game time.
One of the first faces he saw was Rogers, the pitcher he grew up watching as a kid in Texas, who gave the Coliseum his full endorsement. Given Rogers' 25-4 career record here, it wasn't hard to do.
Tata had spent time at the ballpark when he began last season in the Tigers bullpen, but he never pitched here. By the time he was finished, he was racking up outs like a veteran.
"He did a heckuva job," manager Jim Leyland said. "He had a good cutter, mixed in some good changeups, and plopped a few curves up there."
Most importantly, he threw strikes, forcing a team that had never seen him and had just one day to prepare for him to take their swings. After the A's scored 10 runs in defeat Sunday at Seattle, they were stymied on Monday.
"He cuts the ball pretty well," Mark Ellis said. "We just didn't have a very good night offensively."
From the outset, that cutter seemed to have more movement and speed than the A's expected. He spotted a third strike on the inside corner to Shannon Stewart, the second batter he faced, then blew a 91 mph fastball past Nick Swisher to end the opening. Two innings later, Tata (1-0) struck out Swisher again, this time with a 93 mph fastball for the call with runners on first and second.
Mark Kotsay's RBI double and Kurt Suzuki's run-scoring single put the A's ahead in the fifth, but Detroit's offense immediately answered off Oakland starter Joe Blanton with two-run rallies in the sixth and seventh.
Curtis Granderson scored both times -- dashing home in the sixth when Kotsay couldn't pick up Placido Polanco's single to center, then following up his RBI single in the seventh by coming around when Polanco's double glanced off Mark Ellis' glove.
Granderson scored three runs and drove in another in his three-hit performance.
Once Tata had the lead again, he took over the later innings, retiring eight of the final nine batters he faced and allowing no base hits after Stewart's fifth-inning single. He needed just nine pitches to retire the side in the fifth and sixth, and 10 pitches in the seventh while the A's put the ball in play for outs early in counts.
"Just channeling some Minor League pitching coaches," Tata said. "Shutdown innings after we score are the biggest innings in a ballgame. To keep that momentum on our side is huge throughout the course of a nine-inning game. So in between [innings] when we were hitting for a while, I just told myself, 'You really need to bear down here.'"
No Tigers starter had earned a victory since fellow rookie Andrew Miller outdueled Johan Santana July 18 at Minnesota. No Tiger had thrown a quality start since Justin Verlander last Thursday at Chicago.
"It couldn't have come at a better time," third baseman Brandon Inge said. "We're struggling through a little low spot. He comes on the scene and he throws a great game. Maybe he gives us the lift that we need to snap us out of the little funk that we've got going."
The timing was unexpected for everybody involved because of the short notice. For Tata, it's something he wasn't sure to expect at all. He had made his impression on Tigers coaches last year with his relief performance, but he had seen plenty of starters receive their chances since.
Asked if he wondered whether he would get his chance, he said, "It's not something I've worried about, but it's something I've thought about. Coming into Spring Training, you look around, and this system -- since I got drafted in 2003 -- it has exploded with good arms. But that's a good thing. It makes guys want it that much more, and it makes moments like this that much sweeter."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.