Big inning, Miner bring Tigers a win
Six-run outburst supports right-hander's strong start
DETROIT -- Through four innings of Friday's series opener against the Royals, the Tigers appeared as though they were ready to take their fifth straight defeat without much of a fight.
But a six-run fifth inning, combined with another stellar effort from Zach Miner, propelled the Tigers to a 6-3 victory at Comerica Park to snap a four-game losing streak.
Miner has thrown the ball so well of late that he may have pitched himself into the starting rotation in 2009. But Tigers manager Jim Leyland was reluctant to make such a promise.
"Coming into the season, you didn't really consider him for that spot because we thought we were going to have [Jeremy] Bonderman, [Justin] Verlander, [Kenny] Rogers, [Dontrelle] Willis and [Nate] Robertson," Leyland said.
"[Miner] filled in in '06 and did a good job. I think he's a big league pitcher, and it's way too early to start making commitments that you don't know if you can keep or not, because nobody knows what's gonna unfold for 2009."
Miner echoed his manager's sentiments.
"I don't know. You hope [you can start]," Miner said. "But we could go sign some other guy and all of a sudden it doesn't mean anything. You never know. Everybody understands what the situation is with the guys we have here, and you just try to put yourself in a position to succeed and get an opportunity. If it doesn't come to you, you deal with it and adjust."
Miner's start must have felt like déjà vu after taking it to the Royals last Saturday with seven shutout innings. He was almost as good this time around, pitching six innings and allowing just one run.
"He's got some confidence now and some good concentration," Leyland said. "He's very good at having an idea of how to execute a game plan. [Pitching coach] Chuck [Hernandez] gives him a game plan, and he's pretty good at staying with it."
The Tigers mustered just two hits, both singles, off Royals starter Kyle Davies through the first four innings. Trailing, 1-0, in the fifth, Marcus Thames led off with a ground ball to shortstop. Mike Aviles fielded the ball and threw it into the dirt in front of first baseman Ross Gload.
The Tigers had stranded their leadoff hitter at first in the previous inning, but they weren't about to let that happen again.
"I think the biggest part of that inning was the fact that Marcus Thames was busting his tail to first base," Leyland said. "If he's not running to first on that play, then Gload picks it up and he's still out. But the fact that Marcus was hustling and busting his tail opened up a big inning for us. I think it probably frustrated Davies a little bit and made him make a few mistakes."
Indeed, it did. Edgar Renteria singled, and Curtis Granderson hit a two-run triple into right-center field. Four singles and four runs later, the Tigers had batted around and all but sealed the win.
Davies (5-6) was knocked around for six runs -- two earned -- over 4 2/3 innings. He was relieved before Thames came up to bat for the second time in the fifth.
Miner (8-4) reached a career high with his eighth win. He is 8-2 with a 1.93 ERA in his last 27 appearances. Since he took over a starting role, he's gone 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA.
"[My sinker] was good at times," Miner said. "I felt good. I felt a little stronger than usual. My slider was pretty good at times, and it was terrible in the bullpen. My breaking balls were pretty good today, and I threw a whole lot of changeups."
"He's basically a four-pitch pitcher when he starts -- probably more of a two-pitch pitcher when he relieves," Leyland said. "He's using all his pitches. The curveball [and] slider are getting better -- changeup, sinker, [too]. He's pitched really well."
The Tigers took the series from the Royals in their last meeting, and they hope to clinch this one on Saturday.
"There's not a lot of momentum in baseball," Leyland said. "You're only as good as your next day's pitcher. That's just the way it works."
David Just is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.