Hernandez retired eight straight Tigers into the fourth inning, but a two-run home run by Victor Martinez in the fourth and an RBI single by Miguel Cabrera in the fifth put the Rays in a 3-0 hole.
"After the home run, he just got a little bit quick with everything, but then he settled back down OK," Maddon said. "He pitched well. He had a nice day for himself. But they pitched really well. They outpitched us today."
Hernandez was pulled with runners on the corners and one out in the sixth, trailing 3-1. Maddon went with Jake McGee out of the bullpen looking for the strikeout against what he expected to be a pinch-hitter. But Avisail Garcia hit a sacrifice fly to score Martinez and push the lead to 4-1. Maddon said Hernandez could have gone deeper into the game. He was at just 84 pitches.
"I just got to that point where I felt Jake needed to come in and keep it within a save situation," Maddon said. "I wanted to get into their bullpen when it was close. I thought Jake was the right guy."
Hernandez was coming off his best start of the season -- allowing one unearned run over 8 2/3 innings at Miami -- and felt Thursday was a good, but unlucky, day.
"I think it's OK," Hernandez said. "I missed a couple pitches. The home run wasn't a bad pitch, but a little bit up. A couple bloops. I can't control that."
Tigers catcher Alex Avila said they knew what Hernandez would bring, based on that past experience, but the pitcher was bringing a little more this time around.
"We've seen him a bunch. We know exactly what he's featuring. He does have a lot better command, though," Avila said. "I would say he's throwing a lot more strikes, throwing his off-speed stuff for strikes and throwing it well. He's got that good sinker. He had a real good changeup today and good sliders, too.
"It's just a matter of getting him up in the zone and the few times he was up we were able to get to him."
Hernandez threw 46 sinkers, 63 percent of which were strikes. Of his 29 changeups, 72 percent were for strikes.
McGee would get out of the sixth without any more damage, but he took a hard-hit ball off the left shin in the seventh and left the game after some practice throws. It was diagnosed as a left-shin contusion, but McGee said he would be fine after some ice.
"It's just a bruise, and when I tried to throw more pitches, I felt it in my leg," McGee said. "I didn't want to risk it, especially because it was my push-off leg, too, so I put a lot of pressure on it. If it was a little more to the right, it could have hit me right on my shin, but it hit to the left of my shin, so I should be good to go tomorrow."
The Rays' offense could do little against Max Scherzer, who allowed one earned run on four hits over seven innings. It has been a trend for the Tigers, who had won 13 of the previous 17 against the Rays, dating back to August 2010, with a 2.38 ERA over that span. Maddon said the Tigers might have the best starting pitching in the American League.
"When we play Detroit, my concern is always that they have a chance to out-pitch you," he said. "We normally have it go the other way. They're that good among their starters."
Against reliever Joaquin Benoit, the Rays would cut the deficit to 5-2 and put runners on the corners with two outs, but Desmond Jennings' bid for a game-tying home run only reached the edge of the warning track in left field. Jose Valverde pitched a perfect ninth to close out the win for Detroit.
So the stretch goes to 14 out of 18 against the Rays for the Tigers. Tampa Bay will have a chance to turn that around when Detroit comes to town at the end of the month.
"I love playing these guys," Maddon said. "They've gotten us over the last couple years based on pitching, more than anything. I know their offense has been very good, but we've lost a lot of close games to them. We've got to do better."