Detroit Tigers' Garrett Hill dazzles in MLB debut in 4-1 win in Game 1 of doubleheader

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Garrett Hill walked down the dugout steps and received a firm handshake from Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch. Once the right-hander reached the bottom step, many of his new teammates were there to congratulate him.

He couldn't have asked for a better major league debut.

A former 26th-round draft pick, Hill completed six innings of one-run ball in the Tigers' 4-1 win over the Cleveland Guardians in Game 1 of Monday's doubleheader at Comerica Park.

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"That was really fun, watching him go to work and prepare," manager A.J. Hinch said. "A dream come true for him, and then to come out and methodically work through his day, he was super composed and very prepared, very smart with how he went about his business."

Hill became the first pitcher in franchise history to toss at least six innings and allow no more than two hits in his debut.

"That's crazy," Hill said.

Tigers pitcher Garrett Hill pitches during the first inning of Game 1 of the doubleheader on Monday, July 4, 2022, at Comerica Park.
Tigers pitcher Garrett Hill pitches during the first inning of Game 1 of the doubleheader on Monday, July 4, 2022, at Comerica Park.

Scoring four runs was important, too.

The Tigers (31-47) — averaging 3.01 runs per game — scored two runs in the first inning off Guardians right-hander Zach Plesac.

Riley Greene drew a four-pitch walk and advanced to third base on Willi Castro's single to right field. Although Javier Báez struck out swinging on a slider, Miguel Cabrera drove in both runners for a 2-0 lead with a single that bounced up the middle.

"I love the early walk from Greene and the first-pitch aggressiveness by Willi, knowing he's got to come in the zone after the four-pitch walk to start the game," Hinch said. "All of a sudden, we're at first and third and putting pressure on him right away."

The first inning ended when Jeimer Candelario was thrown out trying to steal third base on an 0-2 pitch for a ball to Robbie Grossman. Candelario, who reached on a force out and took second base on a throwing error, has stolen seven bases in his 544-game career and none since 2020.

"There's no reason for him to go," Hinch said. "He's just trying to do too much."

Tigers right fielder Willi Castro, left, talks with third baseman Jeimer Candelario after scoring a run during the first inning of Game 1 of the doubleheader on Monday, July 4, 2022, at Comerica Park.
Tigers right fielder Willi Castro, left, talks with third baseman Jeimer Candelario after scoring a run during the first inning of Game 1 of the doubleheader on Monday, July 4, 2022, at Comerica Park.

The offense posted 10 hits and four walks, with Jonathan Schoop finishing 4-for-4 with four singles, boosting his batting average from .191 to .203 through 75 games this season.

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Castro went 2-for-4 and extended his hitting streak to six games.

"I know for a fact, if I go, we're going to win games," Schoop said. "It felt really good, especially for myself to get some hits. It's even better to get the win. ... We just got to keep it up and try to win games.

"I feel like we're not out of (the postseason race). We can catch fire and win 10 games in a row. Let's see what happens. We already won one today, so let's go win one more."

But Game 1 belonged to Hill, who allowed one run on two hits and one walk with three strikeouts in six innings. He is scheduled for two more starts in the big leagues ahead of the All-Star break.

King of the Hill

Hill retired the first six batters he faced.

The 26-year-old completed the first two innings on 23 pitches, a testament to his ability to throw strikes. He finished with 52 of his 78 pitches for strikes. Hill racked up two of his three strikeouts in the second inning: Josh Naylor on three pitches and Andres Gimenez on five pitches.

"After the second inning, going into the third, I started feeling my legs again," Hill said of his emotions. "From there on out, it was just make pitches and keep pumping strikes in there."

The Guardians have the best contact rate in the majors, at 80.8%.

Cleveland put 16 balls in play — while Hill logged just five swings and misses — but averaged an 87.3 mph exit velocity. (The Tigers, by the way, rank 23rd in MLB with a 75.6% contact rate.)

"He looked like he was all over the zone with all of his pitches," Hinch said. "He was able to get them to exploit some soft contact and some balls on the ground when he needed to. We played pretty good defense. He was in command of the game, which means he can throw any pitch at any time."

Walking the first batter in the third inning — Gabriel Arias — didn't deter Hill from continuing to pound the strike zone. He retired the next two batters and benefitted from catcher Tucker Barnhart's play for the third out.

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With Myles Straw (grounded into a force out) on second base, Steven Kwan hit a single into left field. On the play at the plate, Barnhart received the ball, lunged and tagged out Straw before he touched home plate.

Initially, Straw was called safe by umpire Erich Bacchus. Hinch challenged the play and the call was overturned.

"When I dove back to tag him, I just felt something," Barnhart said. "I knew with where I caught the ball, I was so far up the line, that if I did tag him, he was going to be out because he wasn't going to be able to get to the plate before that. Basically, I didn't know if I got him or not. I was just telling A.J. and the bench to take a look and see. My glove is just big enough."

Tigers pitcher Garrett Hill throws against the Guardians in the first inning of Game 1 of the doubleheader on Monday, July 4, 2022, at Comerica Park.
Tigers pitcher Garrett Hill throws against the Guardians in the first inning of Game 1 of the doubleheader on Monday, July 4, 2022, at Comerica Park.

In the fourth inning, the Guardians scored their lone run against Hill.

Josh Naylor, who exited the game in the seventh inning with back spasms, saw three straight changeups. He smashed the third one for a two-out home run to put Cleveland on the scoreboard.

"I left it up a little bit," Hill said. "It's going to happen if you don't execute. I liked the pitch call. I just didn't execute."

After that, Hill retired the next seven batters to conclude his MLB debut.

He threw 10 of 11 pitches for strikes in the fifth inning and came out on top in an important eight-pitch battle with Kwan for the second out in the sixth. His final opponent, Amed Rosario, grounded out to second base.

"It's no secret they have the highest contact rate in baseball," Barnhart said. "When you have a lineup like that, or guys like that, to go in and try to punch a bunch of guys out would be the bad way to go about it, because you'd find yourself in the fourth inning with 100 pitches.

"But he did exactly what we talked about. He pitched to contact. He punched out Naylor for his first strikeout. He threw all his pitches in the zone for strikes. He was able to work quickly and get weak contact."

Two more runs, zeros from bullpen

Picking up where Hill departed, three relievers posted zeros in the run column across the final three innings.

Left-hander Andrew Chafin faced the ever-dangerous Jose Ramirez for his first assignment in the seventh inning. He struck him out swinging with a slider and worked around Naylor's ensuing walk.

Tigers pitcher Andrew Chafin delivers a pitch against the Guardians during the top of the seventh inning in Game 1 of the doubleheader on Monday, July 4, 2022, at Comerica Park.
Tigers pitcher Andrew Chafin delivers a pitch against the Guardians during the top of the seventh inning in Game 1 of the doubleheader on Monday, July 4, 2022, at Comerica Park.

The Tigers tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh, as Báez poked a second-pitch curveball into shallow center field for an RBI single off right-handed reliever James Karinchak. He drove in Schoop for a 3-1 advantage.

Candelario struck out swinging to strand the bases loaded.

"I've personally seen him go crazy for a month and carry us," Hinch said of Schoop. "Maybe this is the start of that."

Chafin returned for the eighth inning to retire Gimenez, a left-handed hitter, then gave way to right-hander Michael Fulmer for the final two outs. Fulmer struck out Arias with a slider and induced a pop out against pinch-hitter Richie Palacios with a first-pitch slider.

The Tigers scored their fourth running in the eighth on Barnhart's RBI double. Left-handed closer Gregory Soto tossed a scoreless ninth, despite two walks, to record his 16th save in 18 opportunities.

"I've been grinding," Barnhart said of his offense. "I just got to stay the course and keep looking forward."

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' Garrett Hill dazzles in debut; 4-1 win in Game 1 of 2