Tigers break out of slump behind Scherzer

Six-run first highlighted by Castellanos' three-run HR; righty now 13-3

Tigers break out of slump behind Scherzer

DETROIT -- The Tigers scored six runs over the course of a four-game losing streak. They ended it by driving in six runs over a four-pitch span of their first inning Wednesday night against White Sox starter Hector Noesi.

It wasn't by accident.

"We know Noesi throws hard, he throws a lot of fastballs," said Nick Castellanos, whose three-run homer in a four-RBI night powered the Tigers to a 7-2 win. "So the game plan was to be aggressive on pretty much fastballs around the plate, because he's going to give it to you. 

"It's not so much swing at first pitches, it's just swing at good first pitches."

It was a little different setup than most escape plans for offensive slumps. Instead of trying to work counts, the Tigers blitzed them. It's simple to plan, but not easy to pull off.

If it backfires, the opposing pitcher gets easy innings -- like Noesi had in a six-pitch third, a three-pitch fourth and a six-pitch fifth -- and an offense looks like it's giving away at-bats.

"It just felt like one big long inning from the third to the sixth," said Tigers starter Max Scherzer. "Every time I came out, I got a drink of water and by the time I got down below [the inning was over]. Credit Noesi."

When it works, innings like Wednesday's opening frame happen.

"We all had a plan," said Torii Hunter, who had the second in the string of four run-scoring hits in four pitches. "Just to see the team stick with it, be aggressive in the strike zone today, just to see everybody go with that plan and it worked, that's awesome."

It actually has worked at a decent rate for the Tigers. Their .400 average (177-for-443), 110 RBIs and 1.090 OPS on first pitches lead the Majors, and it's not particularly close. The White Sox have the next-highest first-pitch OPS at .942 and the next-best average at .375.

It worked one inning out of six Wednesday, but it worked spectacularly.

Thirteen of the Tigers' 27 plate appearances against Noesi lasted one pitch. Five of those were base hits. Three of those happened consecutively in that opening inning.

"That first inning was just a killer," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "And Scherzer was good. It was that simple."

Eight consecutive Tigers reached base safely after Austin Jackson took a called third strike to lead off the opening inning, but it was the efficiency that impressed as much as the immediacy. Once cleanup hitter Victor Martinez lined a 2-0 fastball into right field for an RBI single to open the scoring, the Tigers began a string of six runs on four pitches.

Hunter got a slider and sent a ground ball through the middle to score Miguel Cabrera from second. After a mound visit from pitching coach Don Cooper, J.D. Martinez did the same with a first-pitch fastball for a grounder into left-center, bringing Victor Martinez around.

Castellanos, back in the lineup with his right index finger bandaged after a bad-hop grounder scratched him from Tuesday's series opener, jumped the first pitch he saw and lofted it out to right for his seventh homer of the season.

"It was a nice way to break the game open and kind of break out of our mini scoring slump," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "But when you score like that, six runs and you don't really add on, you always feel like you've given them an opportunity to get back in."

Fortunately for them, Scherzer has had some practice at following big innings. He retired the middle of the White Sox lineup in order in the second by striking out Adam Dunn and Conor Gillaspie. Two singles from leadoff man Adam Eaton accounted for the only baserunners through five innings, and Scherzer erased him on double plays both times.

"They're a good hitting team," Scherzer said. "If I falter just a little bit, they can whack me."

So far this year, they haven't. It was Scherzer's fourth win in as many starts against the White Sox this season, accounting for nearly a third of his victories. Seven innings of one-run ball didn't even mark his best mastery of the Sox compared to last month's complete-game three-hitter in Chicago. Add up the damage, or lack of it, and Scherzer (13-3) has held the Sox to three runs on 19 hits in 28 innings, striking out 31.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.