Lack of offense spoils Galarraga's start
Right-hander gives up one run on one hit in 7 1/3 innings
DETROIT -- Armando Galarraga got to know Felix Hernandez during their time on the Venezuelan team in the World Baseball Classic. They had a hug and wished each other a good game, Galarraga said, when the Mariners arrived for this three-game series.
They probably couldn't have wished for this good of a matchup on Wednesday night. The ending, though, had to feel familiar for the Tigers.
Galarraga arguably outpitched Hernandez with 7 1/3 innings of one-hit ball, but it took one more hit to make it all for naught. Russell Branyan's two-run homer off Bobby Seay with two outs in the eighth inning provided the Mariners all the offense they needed, sending the Tigers to another 2-1 defeat. It marked Detroit's third loss by that score in its last four games.
After spending much of the season's first half trying to recapture his form as a front-line starter, Galarraga pitched his best outing of the year, only to fall to the same fate that Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson did in their solid outings against the Yankees over the weekend.
In Wednesday's case, the two hits allowed tied for the lowest hit total allowed by the Tigers in defeat since 1954, according to research on baseball-reference.com. Detroit had suffered the same fate nine other times, but just four when pitching the full nine innings.
"I'm doing good things," Galarraga said. "Just keep it more consistent, try to keep going the same next start. That's when my numbers will change."
That's the consolation for the Tigers, who seem to have the makings of a deeper rotation as Galarraga gets further out of his early-season funk. With two rookie starters, the onus falls more on the second-year right-hander to provide innings, rest the bullpen and give the Tigers a chance to win on a consistent basis.
This was a golden opportunity against one of baseball's best pitchers. In the end, it wasn't so much the leadoff walk Galarraga allowed in the eighth, but all the baserunners the Tigers left stranded in the first.
The Tigers needed just three pitches from Hernandez to create their opportunity in the opening inning. Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco hit back-to-back singles to put runners at the corners with nobody out.
"Really, in the first inning, we got exactly what we wanted," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We got first and third with the 3-4-5 [hitters] up. That's pretty good."
That's when Hernandez began to work. Cabrera, 3-for-5 lifetime off his fellow countryman entering the night, fouled off back-to-back fastballs and a changeup on the outside corner, before swingly meekly at a slider off the plate. Clete Thomas, starting in the cleanup spot to give the Tigers another left-handed bat, fouled off two pitches out of the zone before taking a slider for a called third strike.
Marcus Thames battled his way to a walk, loading the bases, but Hernandez put Josh Anderson in an 0-2 hole before getting him to fly out to left.
"Sometimes it's frustrating," Leyland said, "and other times you kind of have to tip your hat, because you know that guy's capable of getting out of a jam like that. In this particular situation, it's probably a little frustrating, but that guy's really good."
Polanco's single and stolen base his next time up set up Thomas with another shot. This time he delivered, sending a ground ball through the middle for a two-out, third-inning single and a 1-0 lead. Thames' broken-bat infield single extended the inning before Hernandez overpowered Anderson with a fastball down and in.
"I don't know if he's got a 90 mph slider," Anderson said, "but he did tonight."
With those chances squandered, Hernandez (11-3) settled down to retire 12 of the final 14 batters he faced, one runner coming on a strikeout and wild pitch. Galarraga matched him by retiring 13 of the first 14 batters he faced with a heavy arsenal of sliders and sinkers.
"I felt good, really good," said Galarraga, whose ERA dropped a quarter run to 4.82. "Sliders, two-seamers, and my location's getting better."
He didn't give up a hit until Ryan Langerhans slapped a ground-ball single through the right side, just beyond the reach of Polanco, with one out in the fifth. The other four baserunners Galarraga allowed all reached on walks, and the first three didn't advance.
The fourth was former Tiger Jack Hannahan, who worked Galarraga full to lead off the eighth inning as Detroit nursed a 1-0 lead. After Ronny Cedeno moved Hannahan into scoring position, Leyland brought in Bobby Seay, a lefty specialist, to face Ichiro Suzuki. Shortstop Ramon Santiago caught Hannahan breaking for third on Ichiro's ground ball, easily throwing him out at third.
Branyan made that irrelevant, pouncing on a hanging slider by Seay (1-2) and sending it over the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field for his 24th homer of the season. It was the second homer Seay allowed in as many nights after holding opponents scoreless in his previous 21 outings.
"Slider, caught the middle," Branyan said. "That's about it."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.