DETROIT — Four months ago, Garrett Hill headed to the Tigers Minor League minicamp wondering if he should move to another organization to get his shot at the Majors as the rule draft pick. 5. Instead, he just had to bide his time for Detroit to come calling.
On Monday afternoon, Hill not only became the 14th different pitcher to start a game for the Tigers this season, but he delivered a historic gem on his Major League debut. His six-run, two-hit innings beat Tigers nemesis Zach Plesac, sending Detroit to a 4-1 win to start a doubles sweep at Comerica Park.
“To live this dream, it means the world,” Hill said.
Hill became the first pitcher in Tigers history to pitch six or more innings while allowing two or fewer hits in his Major League debut. It was a display of spin and intelligence over speed. While Hill didn’t overpower the Guardians, hitting just under 94 mph according to Statcast, he only allowed three bullets with exit speeds over 100 mph. He only drew five swings-and-misses, but three were for strikeouts.
The Tigers swept a Cleveland doubleheader for the second time in as many years, this time with two starters who had never pitched in the Majors until this season and weren’t even in Triple-A at the start. of the season. Alex Faedo, who made his 11th start with the Tigers this year after returning from Tommy John surgery, kept Cleveland contained in Game 2 for three scoreless innings before going into a 26-pitch fourth inning with pain at the right hip. Tyler Alexander got it back with 3 1/3 scoreless relief innings in a 5-3 victory.
“So many guys that we relied on, guys that we didn’t necessarily rely on coming out of spring training,” wide receiver Tucker Barnhart said. “Their ability to come in and get going and play a big part for us and throw well has been brilliant. I can’t say enough good things. The composure of our youngsters, I can’t say I love it. ‘ve seen a lot.
Hill, the Tigers’ 26th-round pick in the 2018 draft from San Diego State and their No. 23 prospect, caught the eye of evaluators with 99 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings last year to go with a 6-1 record and a 2.74 ERA between High-A West Michigan and Double-A Erie. The cancellation of the Rule 5 draft was a boon for Detroit, which saw it complete its rise through the system with a 3.23 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings between Erie and Triple- In Toledo this season.
Three of Hill’s 15 Minor League starts this season have come against Guardians affiliates, including his worst performance with six runs allowed in four innings against Triple-A Columbus on June 3. If any club should have a scouting report on the Tigers rookie, it’s Cleveland.
But Hill reversed the tables, foiling a range of high contacts with a studious approach that matched her bespectacled look.
“He did so well,” Barnhart said. “It was extremely impressive to see him work. He seemed very stoic and he threw a lot of shots. It’s not a secret [the Guardians] have the highest contact rate in baseball, and when you have a formation like that, going in and trying to hit a bunch of guys would probably be the wrong way to go. He did exactly what we talked about, launched on contact. He threw all of his pitches into the strike zone.
Despite this, Hill held the Guardians to a solo home run from Josh Naylor and a single from Steven Kwan. The latter would have represented a run, but Tucker Barnhart’s sweep tag from a Robbie Grossman pitch took out Myles Straw trying to score from second base in the third inning.
Hill’s five-high mix kept Guardians guessing. The only time he became predictable was on his home run against Naylor, who pounced on a third consecutive off-speed pitch and drove it deep to the right. Hill retired his last seven batters from there, earning a handshake and the gratitude of manager AJ Hinch.
“It was really fun watching him go to work and get ready,” Hinch said. “It’s been a dream come true for him to then go out and work methodically all day, super calm, very prepared, very smart with the way he took care of his business, really, really fun to do it stay out there against a heavy contact team and keep us in the game.
It was a stellar start to what will be at least a three-start audition for Hill, the latest pitcher to come through Detroit’s system ahead of schedule and help an injury-plagued Tigers starting body. He’ll complete the first half of the rotation, including a likely rematch with the Guardians next week in Cleveland. The Tigers plan to reassess their rotation from there, potentially taking Rony García off the injured list.
“It’s the dream is to stay here,” Hill said. “Work hard, work with [pitching coach Chris Fetter] and continue.
The Tigers have already used their most starters in a season since the 1996 team used 16 on the way to a 6.38 ERA. Seven of the 14 this year were homegrown; three others were acquired in prospect. Only nine games have been pitched by pitchers over 30. Drew Hutchison will push that number into double digits when he starts on Tuesday.
The franchise record of starters used is 17 in 1912.
“The start is definitely on deck right now,” said Eric Haase.