HOUSTON — The Detroit Tigers recorded leadoff hits in seven of nine innings but only had two runs to show for their efforts, squandering a brilliant start from left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez.
Two runs wasn’t enough.
Right-handed reliever Michael Fulmer allowed two runs in the eighth inning alone, giving the Houston Astros three for the game. The Tigers lost, 3-2, Saturday in the third of four matchups at Minute Maid Park, for their 11th loss in 13 games.
Fulmer walked Kyle Tucker on five pitches with the bases loaded and two outs for the Astros’ go-ahead run.
The Tigers (8-17) finished 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position, stranding nine runners on base. Rodriguez countered the lack of game-changing hits by keeping the Astros to one run over nearly seven innings.
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Rodriguez, who signed a five-year, $77 million contract in November, gave up one hit and three walks with eight strikeouts in 6⅔ innings. Rodriguez’s lone hit aloowed occurred in the bottom of the third, when Jose Altuve cranked a first-pitch changeup for a solo home run to left.
In their next matchup, Rodriguez struck out Altuve in the sixth.
The Tigers scored their two runs on Miguel Cabrera’s 600th career double in the third. Derek Hill and Robbie Grossman singled off left-hander Framber Valdez to place runners on the corners with one out.
Cabrera pulled Valdez’s sixth-pitch curveball for a two-RBI double into the left-field corner.
Detroit’s offense, despite scoring only two runs, tallied 10 hits and two walks.
Hill, making his seventh start in center this season, paced the team with three hits. Javier Báez and Jeimer Candelario had the other multi-hit performances with two hits, while Cabrera, Robbie Grossman, Willi Castro and Spencer Torkelson each chipped in one hit.
Torkelson snapped an 0-for-15 stretch with his single in the second inning.
Valdez allowed two runs on nine hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in six innings. The Tigers’ leadoff hitter reached safely in the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth innings.
Astros closer Ryan Pressly blanked the Tigers in the ninth inning.
Oh, that bullpen
After recording the final out in the seventh, Fulmer returned for the eighth and squandered the Tigers’ 2-1 lead.
A one-out single from Altuve brought the go-ahead run to the plate. Michael Brantley made Fulmer pay with a game-tying RBI triple to the right-field corner. Tigers manager A.J. Hinch intentionally walked Yordan Alvarez with two outs, only for Fulmer to walk Yuli Gurriel on four pitches.
With the bases loaded, Tucker put the Astros up, 3-2, with a five-pitch walk.
Righty Alex Lange replaced Fulmer and escaped further damage by striking out Jeremy Pena.
Rodriguez walked Tucker on seven pitches in the second inning, Alvarez on five pitches in the fourth and Tucker on six pitches in the seventh. He registered two strikeouts in the second, two in the third, one in the fourth, one in the fifth, one in the sixth and one in the seventh.
After each miscue, Rodriguez bounced back.
He struck out Jeremy Peña on three pitches following Tucker’s two-out walk in the second, and he induced a groundout from Brantley after Altuve’s homer .
In the fourth, Alvarez drew his walk with one out. The next batter, Gurriel, flied out to center field on two pitches, and then Rodriguez struck out Tucker on three pitches.
But Rodriguez didn’t get a chance to answer in the seventh, as Hinch pulled him from his start after Tucker’s two-out walk. He called Fulmer out of the bullpen to face Peña.
Peña singled, but Fulmer retired Chas McCormick for the third out.
For his 99 pitches (58 strikes), Rodriguez used 32 four-seam fastballs, 31 sinkers, 22 cutters, nine changeups and five sliders. He racked up 12 swings and misses: seven with his four-seamer, two apiece with his sinker and changeup and one with his cutter. He added 17 called strikes.
Against Rodriguez, the Astros posted an 86.5 mph average exit velocity.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers waste Eduardo Rodriguez gem in 3-2 loss to Astros