DETROIT — One after another, the Atlanta Braves flung some of the best arms in baseball at the slumping Tigers.
Detroit’s reply: Who’s next?
No matter that the Tigers faced the top three starters from a team that came into the series with the game’s top ERA — and record. Detroit finished off its first sweep of the season with an 8-3 dusting on a rainy Sunday night at Comerica Park.
After rocking league ERA leader Paul Maholm and Kris Medlen — the most uncharitable of all major league pitchers since last year’s All-Star break — the Tigers did the same to Mike Minor.
Austin Jackson hit a three-run home run to left-center in the third inning, and the Tigers did not stop until handing a third-straight Braves pitcher his season-worst outing.
They bruised Minor (3-2), right behind Medlen with the second-lowest ERA (2.08) in the majors since last season’s Midsummer Classic, for six runs over 6 2/3 innings. In all, a Detroit lineup that had scored 14 runs in its seven games leading up to the series mashed the Braves for 25 over the weekend.
“We just beat three guys that have been pitching lights-out,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
How good were the Tigers feeling? Miguel Cabrera punctuated the downpour in the seventh with an opposite-field, three-run homer on a 3-0 pitch. One of two players along with Prince Fielder whom Leyland regularly gives the 3-0 green light, he sent reliever Cory Gearrin’s outside fastball screaming into the right-field stands to push the Tigers ahead 8-3 in the seventh.
Leyland marveled afterward, again calling Cabrera, who extended his hitting streak to 12 games, the “best I’ve ever seen with opposite-field power.”
“I can’t remember the last time I [swung 3-0],” said outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo, who had one of the Tigers’ nine hits. “You’ve got to earn that right.”
He added: “We swung the bats, and it feels good.”
It was plenty enough for Tigers starter Doug Fister, who held Atlanta to three runs on six hits over seven innings in improving to 4-0.
Fister’s only trouble came in a hard-luck fourth as the usually all-or-nothing Braves reverted to small ball, answering Jackson’s blast with three runs of their own.
In order, major-league home-run leader Justin Upton singled, Freddie Freeman was hit by a pitch, Chris Johnson poked a fastball in on his hands the other way for a double, and Evan Gattis hit a bleeder through the right side. Then, just as a sure double-play grounder appeared to limit the trouble to two runs, a wild throw by Omar Infante pulled Prince Fielder off first base and allowed the tying run to score.
But Victor Martinez put the Tigers back ahead 4-3 with a sacrifice fly in the sixth, and the home team pulled away in the seventh. Infante hit a solo homer off Minor before Cabrera clubbed the finishing blow.
Closer Jose Valverde pitched another perfect ninth, though not in a save situation this time. After Al Alburquerque allowed the first two runners in the ninth to reach base, Leyland went to Valverde, who kept the Tigers’ five-run lead intact. Valverde has retired all nine batters he’s faced since the Tigers brought him back.
TAKING IT EASY: Andy Dirks missed his third straight game as he tries, once and for all, to vanquish a right-knee injury that has lingered throughout this icy April.
The outfielder said he felt better Sunday than at any point since his knee first flared after crashing into the wall in spring training.
“I’m not going to make excuses why I’m not hitting,” said Dirks, who is batting .167 with one extra-base hit. “It’s definitely not helping.”
HERNDON HONORED: The Tigers presented former outfielder Larry Herndon with the club’s African-American Legacy award during a pregame ceremony.
Herndon, 59, now a coach for Detroit’s high-Class A affiliate in Lakeland, Fla., spent the final seasons of his 13-year big-league career with the Tigers and is best remembered for his role in the Bless You Boys’ World Series title in 1984. He hit a game-winning two-run homer in Game 1 and caught the final out the series — a fly ball to left by young Padres star Tony Gwynn.
Among other distinctions, Herndon shares an major-league record with home runs in four consecutive at-bats across two games at Tiger Stadium in 1982. Asked how many of those balls would have cleared the fence in the less-friendly Comerica Park, he smiled and said, “I won’t say. I like that little place we played.”
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.