PHOENIX – Detroit Tigers shortstop Javier Baez stepped out of the batter’s box, snapped the bat, and turned to face the circle on deck. He pointed to designated striker Miguel Cabrera and yelled. Amid intense interaction, the ball crossed the wall in left-center field, resulting in a grand slam.
Baez, who signed a six-year, $140 million contract last offseason, has an eight-game hitting streak and a three-home run streak. He single-handedly led the Tigers to a 5-1 victory over Arizona Diamondbacks at the Friday Series Opener at Chase Field.
Finally, Baez clicks.
The grand slam went 459 feet, the longest home run for the Tigers this season and the longest for the team since Hymer Candelario hit a 467-foot homer in July 2019. -2 bills from Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly – with an exit speed of 111 mph.
It was Baez’s seventh home run that season and his seventh Grand Slam in his nine-year MLB career.
The Tigers (27-43) snapped a three-game losing streak even though they have won only three of their last 12 games and are 11.5 games behind the top spot in the Central American League.
Over the past eight games, Baez is hitting .387 (12 of 31) with three doubles, one C-out, four home runs, nine RBIs, two walks and three strikeouts. Overall, he has a .216 batting average in 58 games in 2022.
To set up the Grand Slam, the Tigers posted three straight singles to start the third inning, with Eric Haase on a lead on first pitch, Victor Reyes on a shift on second pitch, and Riley Green on a shift on fifth.
Baez then took advantage of his opportunity loaded with bases.
But Kelly lasted six innings, allowing four runs on seven hits and one walk with five strikeouts. Kelly’s only other chance to score came in the second inning when Robbie Grossman passed and moved to second base on Spencer Thorkelson’s one-out infield single. Grossman and Thorkelson are stuck in the bases.
The Tigers finished with nine hits, one walk and eight strikeouts. Jamer Candelario scored two hits, while Reyes, Greene, Baez, Thorkelson, Grossman, Miguel Cabrera and Eric Haase each scored one hit.
Baez went 1 of 4 with four RBIs and one strikeout.
Roni in place
Against Kelly, right-hander Roni Garcia dominated the Diamondbacks in the sixth inning. He was taken off the mound after a Ketel Marte walk with one out in the sixth.
Right-handed forward Alex Lange took over and passed the first batter he faced, Christian Walker, on four pitches. He avoided the jam by knocking out David Peralta – but not before pitching coach Chris Vetter visited the mound after two more balls – and triggered a Josh Rojas groundout.
Garcia allowed one run on three strikes and two walks on three strikeouts in 5 ⅓ innings, throwing in 51 of 81 innings per strike. The 24-year-old, who was drafted by the Tigers in 2019 under the Rule 5 Draft, has a 5.52 ERA in six starts this season.
The Diamondbacks didn’t get to Garcia until two outs in the fourth inning when they overcame their only run on a sacrificial fly from Rojas. Walker and Peralta released back-to-back singles to put runners in a corner for Rojas.
In his 81 innings, Garcia threw 35 four-seam fastballs, 20 two-seam fastballs, 17 curl balls, and nine substitutions. He recorded seven swings and misses, all with a four-seam machine, and 12 claimed strikes.
The Diamondbacks didn’t make hard contact with Garcia, averaging 80 mph at the exit.
As the Tigers’ bullpen followed Garcia’s strong start, the eighth inning offense was tied for insurance. Grossman doubled up right hander Sean Poppen and pitched Willie Castro – pinching Cabrera – from first base for a 5-1 lead.
Four pitchers combined for 3⅔ scoreless innings: Lange for the last two outs in sixth, right-hander Michael Fulmer in seventh, left-hander Andrew Chafin in eighth, and left-hander closer Gregory Soto in ninth.
Fulmer, who has a 2.08 ERA in 26 games, has gone 10⅔ straight innings with no points scored in his last 11 games. Over the series, he has four walks and 16 strikeouts.
In a no-save situation, Soto ran a perfect ninth inning to secure a four-run victory.
The Diamondbacks had three hits and four walks.
This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press: The Detroit Tigers defeated the Diamondbacks 5-1 in Game 1 of the series.