CHICAGO -- An encouraging first month to the 2014 season for the White Sox finished with a bit of a thud in a 5-1 loss to the Tigers on Wednesday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field.
Detroit (14-9) took both games of the two-game set, presenting a little reminder that the American League Central still goes through Motown. It doesn't hurt a team's playoff cause when Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer are the starters taking the mound.
Scherzer (3-1) wasn't razor sharp Wednesday, allowing baserunners in four of his six innings pitched. But when the 2013 AL Cy Young winner needed to get a big out, he moved into a second gear much like Verlander did Tuesday night.
"He's great, he's always tough," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Scherzer. "You get some guys on, you get opportunities and that's when good pitchers really show their stuff. He did that today. We at least got him a high pitch count, and he couldn't get eight or nine innings."
"Yeah, we missed out on a couple of opportunities today and yesterday, too, but those guys are pretty good pitchers and have been for a while," said White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers, who helped the South Siders avoid a shutout with a ninth-inning single to bring home Dayan Viciedo. "They do some good things in those situations and get the job done. We just have to find a way to battle through on some of those and get some runs across."
Easier said than done with Scherzer on the mound.
With Jose Abreu on second after a two-out double in the first, Scherzer pitched around Adam Dunn with a bit of an unintentional, intentional walk. He then struck out Viciedo, who had two doubles, to end the threat.
Adam Eaton walked and Gordon Beckham singled with one out in the third, although Beckham's line drive to center originally was ruled a force out at second. The play was overturned by replay, with Ventura winning his first challenge in five attempts. But Scherzer retired Abreu on a groundout and fanned Dunn.
Flowers and Marcus Semien struck out with runners on first and second in the fourth to pretty much put an end to the White Sox last viable threat.
"Really, I pitched my best when there were runners on base," said Scherzer, who fanned seven over 105 pitches. "I was able to take it up a notch and get my location and execute pitches. That's the reason I was able to keep runs off the board."
While the Tigers had one of their aces throwing, the White Sox went with a bullpen day begun by Hector Noesi (0-2).
Noesi's first start since May 16, 2013, at Yankee Stadium was needed because of Chris Sale and Felipe Paulino being on the disabled list and Erik Johnson being sent down to the Minors to regain confidence. Noesi cruised through the first three innings, needing just 27 pitches and retiring nine straight after Ian Kinsler's leadoff single.
A second time through the order proved more dangerous for the right-hander, who is now 0-10 over his last 14 starts. The Tigers scored four times on four hits and a walk in the fourth, an inning that Noesi did not finish.
"Well, you know, I haven't thrown four innings in a long time -- in like four or five months -- but I feel pretty good today," Noesi said. "I just got tired."
"His pitches, heavy ball, easy arm action, all those kind of clichés, but he really does have two or three of them," said Flowers of Noesi. "He has a nice easy fastball that jumps on you. His slider was pretty effective today, too. He just kind of fell behind a couple of guys, made some mistakes in that inning and kind of compounded on us. But I definitely like his arm. I think he's a very talented pitcher."
Jake Petricka (2 1/3 innings), Zach Putnam, Maikel Cleto and Daniel Webb combined to allow one unearned run over the remaining 5 1/3 innings, with the one charged to Cleto. Webb actually entered in the ninth with the bases loaded and nobody out, but struck out Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera before walking Victor Martinez to force home that run.
This developing bullpen, which has not allowed an earned run over the last 14 1/3 innings, stands as one of the reasons for excitement building with the White Sox. They have an offense with Abreu and his Major League-rookie records for home runs (10) and RBIs (32) for March/April at the center, not to mention strong production from Eaton at the top down to Alexei Ramirez and Flowers at the bottom. Ramirez's fourth-inning single set a franchise record for most hits in March/April at 40, eclipsing Paul Konerko's record of 39 in 2002.
Chicago has lost four of six to the Tigers. But as the White Sox (14-15) prepare for three games this weekend in Cleveland, they certainly don't feel overmatched.
"You've seen us compete in every game against them," said Flowers of the Tigers. "We just worry about our thing and let them worry about theirs. There is no doubt that's a very talented team: strong pitching staff, starting rotation. They have some good bullpen guys in there, a couple of new additions, and then their lineup.
"Even the backup catcher playing the past couple of days has swung the bat well and did a good job. There is definitely nothing easy about that team over there, but with that said, there is nothing easy about our team either. We just come out and play our game and I like our chances against them."