ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The day after the Detroit Tigers traded for Texas Rangers closer Joakim Soria, Joe Nathan made a point of showing why he is still manager Brad Ausmus’ No. 1 option in the ninth inning.
Nathan struck out the side on 12 pitches to secure Max Scherzer’s 6-4 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series between two of the top three teams in the majors.
The six-time All-Star posted his 21st save in 26 chances after Joba Chamberlain gave up a run on Josh Hamilton’s sacrifice fly in the eighth.
“Honestly, I just thought of tonight as just another game,” Nathan said. “I didn’t look at it as anything more important than going out and trying to get a ‘W’ for us.
“It’s not about individuals. It’s about this team winning. So there was really no concern on my part about going out there and making sure I got it done so that I could stay where I’m at. It’s up to Brad to make decisions like that, so I’m just going to go out and compete when they allow me to.”
Nick Castellanos drove in the tying and go-ahead runs with a double in the sixth inning against Garrett Richards and Scherzer won his fourth straight decision.
Scherzer (12-3) tied teammate Rick Porcello and New York’s Masahiro Tanaka for the league lead in wins. He allowed three runs and six hits over seven innings and struck out 11. It was the fourth time this season and 22nd in his career that the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner had double digits in strikeouts.
“Richards is a great pitcher and he’s been having an awesome year, so you know you have to bring your ‘A’ game,” Scherzer said. “I felt good with everything tonight and had all four pitches going. I hadn’t been getting the swings and misses I had been searching for with that pitch, so I made a little adjustment with my grip. Tonight I felt like I had a lot more consistency with it and a lot more downward action.”
Scherzer, the winning pitcher in the All-Star game, is 4-0 with a 2.21 ERA in six starts since giving up 10 runs over four innings in an 11-4 home loss to Kansas City on June 17. That came just five days after the seven-year veteran posted his first complete game and shutout in the major leagues with a three-hitter against the Chicago White Sox.
Richards (11-3) allowed four runs and seven hits over six innings with five strikeouts and two walks. The right-hander was 7-0 with a 1.25 ERA over his previous nine starts following a 9-5 loss at Oakland on May 30.
“His command was a little bit off early, although his velocity was good and his movement was terrific,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “His slider was there, but he just got some pitches in some zones where those guys caught up to it.”
Scherzer made 30 of his 103 pitches during a three-run fifth that put the Angels ahead 3-1. C.J. Cron beat out a broken-bat single in the hole to shortstop Eugenio Suarez to drive in Howie Kendrick, and Kole Calhoun hit a broken-bat single to right field to score David Freese and Cron.
“It was a real challenge facing them in the fifth,” Scherzer said. “They put together some really good at-bats against me. They grinded it out, kept fouling pitches off and they were able to capitalize on a couple of mistakes. They kept finding ways to put the ball in play and keep that inning going.”
The Tigers responded with three runs in the sixth. Richards gave up hits to the first four batters, including Torii Hunter’s RBI double to left-center and Castellanos’ two-run double to the same spot.
“I cannot say he was hittable. It was not fun,” Hunter said. “I mean, he made some mistakes with his curveball, and we live off mistakes. We don’t live off pitchers’ pitches. Garrett is filthy, and it’s not fun facing him at all. So hopefully, I hope I don’t face him every again.”
Ian Kinsler increased Detroit’s margin to 5-3 in the sixth with an RBI double against Jason Grilli, and Austin Jackson added an RBI single in the eighth off Fernando Salas.
The Tigers scratched out a run in the third on a groundout by Kinsler after Suarez drew a leadoff walk, Rajai Davis singled and both runners advanced on a wild pitch that bounced off Conger’s chest protector.
NOTES: Among the crowd of 40,146 was reality TV’s Vicki Gunvalson, one of the original “Real Housewives of Orange County.” ... Soria met his new teammates before the game. Hunter remembered the two-time All-Star as a tough adversary. “It was a battle, man,” Hunter said. “Before the surgery he had a 93 mile-an-hour fastball that looked like it was 97 or a hundred and was pretty sneaky. He was good at hitting the outside corner, his curveball was pretty good, and he wasn’t afraid to throw it at any count. He throw strikes and he works fast. So to have him over here, I’m going to love it.” ... Scherzer is 10 strikeouts from becoming the 16th pitcher to get at least 1,000 in a Tigers uniform.