The Pittsburgh Pirates scored in the first inning and never looked back Monday afternoon against the Detroit Tigers to win at Comerica Park, 7-4.
Matt Joyce, a former Tigers outfielder who signed with the Pirates this winter on a one-year deal worth $1 million, singled on a ground ball through the hole between shortstop and third base to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead in the first inning. John Jaso scored on the play after hitting a leadoff double off Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander.
"I think from the top of the lineup to the bottom, I through we just had a really good approach," Joyce said regarding the performance against the Tigers.
A two-run single by Jordy Mercer drove home Gregory Polanco and Josh Harrison in the top of the second inning. On an 0-2 pitch, Mercer found a pitch in his wheel house and drove it back up the middle.
Detroit got a run back on a solo home run to the opposite field with two outs in the bottom of the second inning. Nick Castellanos played long ball for the first time this season on the first pitch of the at-bat against Jonathon Niese.
The Pirates (5-2) scored a run in the top of the third on a sacrifice fly from Francisco Cervelli and a run in the top of the fourth on a sacrifice fly from Jaso for a 5-1 lead.
After allowing Starling Marte and Cervelli to reach in the top of the fifth inning, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus took the ball from Verlander and handed the baseball to Drew VerHagen.
Polanco hit his third double of the season to left field and scored Marte, then Pittsburgh took a 7-1 lead as Sean Rodriguez singled in Cervelli. Since Verlander allowed both Marte and Cervelli to get on-base safely before departing, the runs were handed to him, not VerHagen.
Verlander had his start against the New York Yankees on Sunday snowed out, so his start got pushed back and he toed the slab against the Pirates for Game 1 of the series. The 33-year-old gave up seven runs (seven earned runs) on 10 hits and two walks across 4.1 innings pitched. Verlander, who is signed through 2019, took the loss and is now 0-1 with an 8.71 ERA on the season.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Tigers got some life off the bat of J.D. Martinez. The right-handed slugger cranked his first home run of the season on a fly ball to left field. Martinez's home run cut the Pirates edge over the Tigers to five runs.
Miguel Cabrera reached base in the bottom of the sixth on a force attempt fielding error by Mercer, the shortstop for the Pirates. Due to that error, Jose Iglesias was able to sneak home. Following Cabrera reaching base, Victor Martinez hit a bloop single and scored Justin Upton for a three run deficit.
Niese, who was traded from the New York Mets to Pirates this winter for second baseman Neil Walker, gave up three runs (four earned runs) on five hits and a walk across 6.0 innings pitched. The 29-year-old left-handed pitcher struck out five batters, but gave up two home runs in Monday's outing. All in all, Niese got the victory and is 1-0 on the season with a 5.73 ERA.
With a 7-4 lead over the Tigers, Neftali Feliz, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon, who picked up his third save of the season, shut the door to register the victory for the Pirates. The trio combined for three strikeouts across the final three innings of the game.
The Tigers (3-2) bullpen, believe it or not, was dominant after Verlander left the game. VerHagen, Logan Kensing, Mark Lowe and Kyle Ryan pitched 4.2 innings of scoreless baseball to end the game, but the offense could not get out of the deficit.
Already An Injury In Detroit?
On a side note, James McCann, the Tigers starting catcher, left the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. The 25-year-old collided with Jaso and was slow to get up after rolling his ankle on the first base bag. The X-rays came back "Ok," Ausmus said, but "there is concern" that McCann could miss time. Detroit is awaiting an MRI.
The Pirates will look to continue winning against the Tigers on Tuesday at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. Juan Nicasio (1-0, 1.50 ERA) will start for Pittsburgh and will be opposed by Anibal Sanchez (1-0, 3.60 ERA) of the Tigers.