Upton’s mammoth homer, four-hit day power Tigers past Pirates 8-2
DETROIT (AP) — When new Tigers general manager Al Avila signed Justin Upton during the offseason to play left field and hit second, he had performances like Tuesday afternoon’s in mind.
Upton had four hits, including a first-inning home run into a camera platform above the center-field fence, and the Detroit Tigers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-2.
Upton entered batting .227 with 10 strikeouts in 22 at-bats, then raised his average to .333 with the 11th game of four hits or more in his big league career. According to MLB’s Statcast system, the home run would have gone 451 feet had it landed unimpeded.
"That’s probably a pitching wedge," he joked, "a wedge or my 9-iron, depending on conditions."
Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez are the only other active players who have reached the camera platform.
"We haven’t seen many of those," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "Miggy’s been out there and J.D., and Jose Abreu came close with the White Sox. That’s all I can think of in two-plus years."
Martinez had his second career four-hit game, and Ian Kinsler homered. The top five in Detroit’s order were a combined 13 for 20 while driving in and scoring all eight runs.
"We can play the small game, too, as you saw today," Upton said. "We hit a lot of singles, keep pressure on the pitchers and put together good at-bats. Hopefully, we can keep doing it."
Anibal Sanchez (2-0) gave up two runs, four hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings, improving to 3-5 in eight starts against the Pirates.
"I felt better late in the game than I did at the beginning," said Sanchez, who missed part of spring training with triceps inflammation. "Everyone knows I’m working on my mechanics, and that puts pressure on me early in games."
Pittsburgh didn’t see any indications Sanchez was struggling.
"That was just a great game," Matt Joyce said. "He didn’t put anything in the middle of the plate, and as much as we were grinding, we just couldn’t do anything against him."
Juan Nicasio (1-1) allowed four runs and six hits in three innings, matching his big league career high with five walks. He needed 94 pitches to get nine outs.
"He obviously didn’t have anything out there," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "If you can’t hit your spots against that lineup, you are going to get beat up in a hurry."
Upton homered on Nicasio’s fourth pitch, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez walked, and J.D. Martinez singled for a 2-0 lead.
After Starling Marte cut the deficit to 4-2 with a two-run homer in the sixth, Detroit opened a five-run lead in the bottom half when Victor Martinez hit a two-run double off former teammate Kyle Lobstein and then scored on J.D. Martinez’s double.
IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden threw out the ceremonial first pitch, firing a one-hopper to Tigers reliever Mark Lowe. "That was a lot more nerve-wracking than the start of an IndyCar race, because I know what I’m doing in the car. When I got up on the mound, I had no clue."
Detroit’s in-game hostess, Heather Park, was hit in the chest by a wild throw in the second inning. She received medical attention for several minutes, but bounced back to do an interview with a fan at inning’s end.
"The ball hit me right on the sternum, and that’s just bone," she said. "It hurts, but I’m OK."
Pirates: Francisco Liriano was scratched from his scheduled start Wednesday with right hamstring discomfort. The team says he is day to day. Ryan Vogelsong will start in his place. … INF Jung Ho Kang remains in extended spring training, batting in games, but not running the bases unless he homers. Kang sustained a broken left leg and torn knee ligament while turning a double play against the Cubs in September.
Tigers: Detroit placed C James McCann on the 15-day DL list with a sprained right ankle. McCann rolled his ankle on the edge of first base Monday while trying to avoid a collision with John Jaso. Detroit selected the contract of C Bobby Wilson from Triple-A Toledo. Wilson, acquired in a March deal for C Bryan Holaday, hit .189 in 56 games for Tampa Bay and Texas last season. The 33-year-old has a .204 career average over parts of seven seasons.
The teams resume their four-game home-and-home series Wednesday night at PNC Park with Vogelsong (1-0, 4.50) filling in for Liriano. Shane Greene is to make his first start of the season for the Tigers; he got his first major league save in the 11-inning opener at Miami.