Scherzer labors, puts Tigers in early deficit
Rookie center fielder Jackson home run shy of cycle
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Leyland didn't want to get caught up in the joy of the Twins' move out of the Metrodome, the Tigers' house of horrors for nearly 30 years. Part of what makes a ballpark so tough, he pointed out Sunday, is the team that plays in it.
The Twins gave him good reason to think that way Monday night. Target Field felt cozy and comfortable before the game, but the feeling after the Tigers' 10-4 loss was much the same as it was in the old place.
"You can't dig a hole like that against anybody, let alone a team like this," Leyland said after the Twins raced to a 7-0 lead in the second inning.
The Tigers' first trip to the Twin Cities since their AL Central tiebreaker loss last October brought them to the other end of downtown, but brought about the same result they suffered so many times in the dome. The more relevant flashback for Max Scherzer, however, was the damage the Twins posted against him last week at Comerica Park.
The Tigers took two out of three from the Twins in Detroit, but one of those wins included 10 unanswered runs after the Twins posted six runs over 3 2/3 innings against Scherzer, who used up 84 pitches in the process. He didn't walk anybody in the outing, but the Twins took advantage of some pitches left in the strike zone.
Scherzer has struggled at times in the past when facing the same team in back-to-back outings, as he did against the Royals in the season's opening week. This time, while he might've had a plan to counter that, his pitch execution let him down.
Two starts ago in Texas, Scherzer said, he felt his slider coming around and felt positive. His last two outings, and especially Monday, left him feeling like he took a step back.
"I made a lot of mistakes tonight," Scherzer said. "I didn't pitch well tonight at all. I was walking people, leaving sliders right in the middle.
"I just didn't pitch well. I don't have a reason for it. I just didn't go out there and do my thing. I didn't give my team a chance to win, and that's what's frustrating."
It didn't take long for Minnesota to repeat its onslaught. After Jim Thome opened the scoring with an RBI single, Michael Cuddyer took advantage of a hanging slider and drove it 411 feet into the second deck of the left-field seats for a 4-0 Twins lead in the first.
An inning, a leadoff single and a walk later, Denard Span fouled off a tough slider on a 1-2 count and then turned on an offspeed pitch. The line drive into the right-field corner plated both runners and left Span on third, where he scored two pitches later on Orlando Hudson's groundout.
Thus, 11 batters into the outing, the Twins had a touchdown-size lead.
"You get the ball out and over -- like any pitcher if they are getting the ball up and it's not sinking enough -- it looked like we got some pitches up and over the plate today and we put some pretty good swings on them," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
That would be true in the Metrodome, Target Field or any other park, which is why Leyland downplayed the relevance of a new ballpark in the Tigers' fortunes against this team.
"I always use the example: In the '60s, nobody liked to hit at Shea Stadium," Leyland said Sunday, "but it had nothing to do with the park. [The Mets] had Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan. That's why it was tough to hit in. It had nothing to do the surroundings of the park."
Monday was the opposite impact. It was about an opportunistic offense taking good swings, and the frustrations of a young pitcher trying to solve his own issues as well as the opponents. Add up Scherzer's last two starts, and he has allowed 16 earned runs on 18 hits over eight innings, both times against the Twins but in two different ballparks.
With Scherzer slotted into the rotation immediately after Justin Verlander, it's easy to forget that he made an Opening Day roster for just the second time in his career. Monday was his 43rd Major League start.
The 25-year-old doesn't have the answers yet, but he's looking.
"Couple starts ago, I really felt I threw my slider really well," Scherzer said, "and I thought I was making strides with it. So I don't think it's a process of trying to revamp the slider or anything like that. It's trying to find the right mechanics with it and just tweak the little things, like have the fingers on top and have it break right.
"I'm not going to go back to the drawing board, but I'm obviously going to tweak a couple things."
He can find some solace in the middle innings. Scherzer regrouped to retire nine of 10 batters, allowing the Tigers to start creeping back into the game with Brennan Boesch's RBI double in the fourth and two more tallies in the fifth. Just when Detroit showed the makings of another potential comeback, however, back-to-back walks and consecutive RBI hits led to three more Twins runs in their half of the fifth.
Wilson Ramos' RBI double chased Scherzer, having allowed 10 earned runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings. He became the first Tigers starter to give up 10 earned runs in a game since Jeremy Bonderman in 2007.
The Tigers, meanwhile, were too far out for a comeback, despite a second straight three-hit performance from Austin Jackson, who fell a home run shy of the cycle. He has 14 multi-hit games in his first 26 Major League contests. He also has reached base safely in 20 straight games.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.