Manager A.J. Hinch didn't have time to plan.
Matt Manning, the Detroit Tigers' scheduled starting pitcher, slammed his glove into the bench in the dugout before walking into the clubhouse alongside pitching coach Chris Fetter. The 24-year-old right-hander suffered arm fatigue in pregame warmups, and minutes before Wednesday's first pitch, was scratched.
So, righty reliever Will Vest received the first start of his career.
"He's the fastest guy we could get ready," Hinch said.
Vest, who didn't even start in high school, surrendered a leadoff solo home run but led a bullpen-only game for the Tigers, featuring seven relief pitchers. The Tigers won, 2-1, over the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park for their seventh victory in the past eight games, improving to 62-92 overall.
"That's big time," Vest said. "That's never what you want, to scratch the starter right before the game, but that's a testament to the bullpen guys for being able to go out there and get a win out of it."
(NOT) ON THE MOUND:Matt Manning misses Tigers start with arm fatigue in pregame warmups
Neither team scored after the first inning.
For the first run, Royals leadoff hitter MJ Melendez blasted a solo home run over the wall in left-center. He attacked a fifth-pitch fastball at the bottom of the strike zone; it was Melendez's first swing.
Melendez, a rookie with 122 games of experience, has 18 homers and four leadoff shots.
"I was more upset with myself because I didn't take all the time I needed," Vest said. "I think I rushed and just wanted to get the game (started). I didn't take all the time that I could have to make sure that I was fully prepared and ready to go."
Miguel Cabrera, a 20-year veteran with 2,695 games in the big leagues, answered with a two-run home run to left-center in the bottom of the first inning. Cabrera, who went deep for the first time since July 25, has five homers this season and 507 in his career.
The ball traveled 411 feet.
"It feels good," Cabrera said. "After I came back from the (injured list), I started to swing better and swing more free. Hopefully I can keep my biceps strong and my knees strong and make better swings at home plate and try to make something happen."
— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) September 28, 2022
Before Cabrera's home run, Riley Greene and Javier Báez opened the Tigers' offensive efforts with back-to-back strikeouts against Royals right-hander Daniel Lynch. But Eric Haase kept the inning alive with a two-out single.
Then, Cabrera crushed a second-pitch slider for a 2-1 advantage.
"Here in Comerica, you never know," Cabrera said. "Here in Comerica, it's hard to hit a home run, but I think people forget that we play in a big ballpark, and I think this is one of the toughest stadiums to hit home runs."
Lynch allowed two runs on five hits and one walk with four strikeouts over six innings, throwing 64 of 101 pitches for strikes. He racked up 13 swings and misses on two four-seam fastballs, six changeups, three sliders, one sinker and one curveball.
An early trip to the bullpen
After Vest completed the first inning on 19 pitches, the Tigers turned to left-hander Daniel Norris and righty Garrett Hill to complete the next four innings. Norris needed 21 pitches to record six outs, while Hill needed 43 pitches to do the same.
Both relievers kept the Royals from scoring.
"Those (games) are fun in the sense of strategic and trying to match up the best you can with a lineup," Hinch said. "But also nerve-racking because like one base hit anytime along the way, and it's a tie game, and we're running out of pitching. And Tyler Alexander is probably going to put his spikes on."
The Tigers' bullpen didn't run into a serious jam until the sixth inning, with right-hander Jose Cisnero on the mound. He allowed a single and two walks, providing a free pass to Nicky Lopez on 10 pitches to load the bases.
Lefty Andrew Chafin entered for a matchup with Melendez. On the first pitch, Melendez grounded out to second baseman Ryan Kreidler for the third out.
Chafin escaped the juiced bases in the sixth, but he faced a similar situation in the seventh. After retiring the first batter, Chafin allowed the next three Royals — Salvador Perez (walk), Vinnie Pasquantino (single) and Edward Olivares (single) — to reach safely. A mound visit from Fetter resulted in back-to-back outs; Chafin struck out Hunter Dozier on three pitches and got Drew Waters to groundout on one pitch.
Righty Alex Lange and lefty closer Gregory Soto pitched the eighth and ninth innings, respectively. In the eighth, Haase and Báez teamed up for the second time in Wednesday's game to catch the same runner — Kyle Isbel — trying to steal second base. They also nabbed him in the second.
"Those are the elite of elite," Hinch said of Báez's tags. "One pick and one perfect throw with Haasey. I don't know how many guys can pull those off, but I know who the best is. We got him. He made some critical plays in a one-run game."
Soto has 29 saves this season.
"Eight scoreless innings after the first inning is hard to come by when you're trying to piece together the matchups and also get to the finish line with enough pitching," Hinch said. "It's nice to come out on top."
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers bullpen make early impact in 2-1 win