Oakland, Calif. — It takes more than salt, pepper and steak sauce to make a bad Tigers game digestible these days.
Gristle is gristle, after all.
But that’s what the Tigers, now 1-7 in their last eight games, have been serving up as pitching on a regular basis lately — especially while being outscored 34-6 in their last three games.
“We’re in a really long rut right now,” said manager Brad Ausmus. “But baseball isn’t like football. You can’t force it down players’ throats. Something has to click, something has to happen, we have to get a good outing from a starter, and all of a sudden everything is back to normal.
“But there’s no puzzle here. We just aren’t pitching well.”
Ausmus didn’t hold a team meeting Monday about the slump but said he had spoke to the team about it Sunday.
On Monday, it was Drew Smyly’s turn not to reverse the trend in a 10-0 loss to the Oakland Athletics — a game in which Smyly allowed as many home runs (four) in 2.1 innings as he did in 76 innings last year.
Another four runs came on the grand slam by Derek Norris off Phil Coke in the eighth.
It definitely was a home-run day. At least for Oakland.
As for the Tigers, “We didn’t do anything great,” Ausmus said. “Of all the games (in this skid), this was probably the most disappointing.”
There was no sign of the firepower to come for the Athletics when they failed to take advantage of a first-and-third chance with no outs in the first inning.
If anything, it looked like advantage Smyly at the time — because the A’s had failed to capitalize on an early chance after losing four in a row.
There was a highlight play in the top of the second: A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie throwing Victor Martinez out at first after a grab deep in the hole at short. But it wasn’t as if the difference between out-and-safe was the difference in a something-or-nothing inning for the Tigers.
It was at this point that the game began to unravel for Smyly. He gave up solo home runs to Brandon Moss and Kyle Blanks in the second — followed in the third by back-to-back home runs by Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes.
“I hung a cutter to Moss,” Smyly said. “He did with it what he should have done. As for Cespedes, he went down and got a pitch as if he knew it was coming.”
In the span of eight hitters, Smyly allowed four home runs — ranging from rockets to towering fly balls.
“It was like, ‘Is this really happening?’” the Tigers starter said.
When the Athletics loaded the bases on two singles and a walk with no outs in the fourth, they stretched their lead to 6-0 on a sacrifice fly by Coco Crisp and a single by Donaldson.
“I didn’t go a very good job of keeping the game close,” said Smyly, who is 2-3. “They hit my good pitches and they hit my bad pitches.”
Offensively, the Tigers countered with next to nothing against Oakland lefty Tommy Milone (3-3), who lasted into the seventh.
Possible explanations for the offensive emptiness could have been A) jet lag; B) a plate umpire in Jordan Baker that kept the Tigers guessing; and C) sparkplug Ian Kinsler getting a day off.
That’s not to say those were offered explanations, however — because none comes close to being a legitimate reason the Tigers still don’t look like themselves.
That’s almost entirely a matter of starting pitching.
Rookie Corey Knebel worked two scoreless innings of relief, snapping off several impressive curves.
“He looked a lot more settled,” Ausmus said.
But what would have been a reason to remember this game beyond the micro-moment of its last out was the catch Austin Jackson would have made — had he made it.
Proving again that it doesn’t have to be a catch to be a highlight.
This goes back, of course, to trying to make games digestible. By now, you’ve run out of Danny Worth knuckleballs to read about.
And there was only one Andrew Romine home run last week to feature.
So if Jackson — with a high leap at the wall in the second on Moss’ home run, a ball that was in his glove before it flipped out — had actually been able to make the catch, it would have been a reason to earmark this game as memorable.
“It would have been awesome,” Smyly said.
But Jackson didn’t make the catch.
And home runs — plus another lopsided Tigers’ loss — ended up as the story of the day.