May 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

Rookie Robbie Ray unravels, Danny Worth pitches as Rangers rout Tigers

Detroit — If there’s no crying in baseball, can there be fun in a 9-2 loss?

Not only can there be, there was on Thursday when infielder Danny Worth got to unveil the pitch his teammates have been known for years to be nasty.

His dancing knuckleball.

But, look, it was the ninth inning of a lopsided game against the Texas Rangers, so it had nothing to do with outcome.

The Rangers had lit into rookie Robbie Ray, before he was optioned back to Toledo, for by far the worst of his three starts.

In 313 innings, Ray allowed seven runs after giving up just one in 1113 combined against the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins.

The Rangers as a team hit lefties better than those two teams do, and they had a field day against Ray, who hadn’t started in 11 days.

The loss for the Tigers was their fourth in a row after winning six straight in Baltimore and Boston, but ups-and-downs are part of a 162-game season — as are ups-then-downs.

And besides the Tigers knew they’d probably be in for a tough time against Yu Darvish (4-2), and were.

The first sign of something other than a hum-drum ninth inning, however, occurred in the eighth when Worth began to warm up.

“They’d told me about the sixth I might get in,” he said.

Then came the official announcement in the press box: “Now warming up in the Tigers’ bullpen, Danny Worth.”

Or as he’s usually known “shortstop Danny Worth.”

“Infielder Danny Worth.”

But he hadn’t been “pitcher Danny Worth” since high school.

And, sure enough, into the game he came. Thus began a process of 20 pitches thrown: 19 knucklers and one 87 mph fastball.

It was the first time since Don Kelly was used to get one out in a 16-9 loss to the New York Mets on June 29, 2011 that the Tigers had used a position player to pitch — and just the second time since Shane Halter in 2000.

Kelly knew what his good friend Worth was going to throw, however.

All the Tigers knew what he was going to throw.

“A knuckleball I can’t catch when I play catch with him,” Kelly said. “He threw all knuckleballs except for the fastball the guy (Chris Gimenez) got a hit on.”

The hit was the fourth of the game for Gimenez, who along with Shin-Soo Choo with a two-run home run, were among many Rangers who had productive afternoons.

“I tried to sneak a heater past him, but just piped it,” Worth said of what he threw Gimenez.

The Tigers, meanwhile, scored only in the sixth on Miguel Cabrera’s RBI double followed by Kelly’s single.

To catch, the Tigers switched from Avila to Bryan Holaday — the latter of whom has caught hundreds of knucklers from Worth.

“It moves so much and moves so late, back and forth then drops, it’s just nasty,” Holaday said of the knuckler.

“But it was fun to have him out there.”

With Gimenez on first, Worth struck out two of the next three Rangers and retired the middle of the three on a fly ball to Kelly in left.

Seriously, though, what looked like a novelty — in having a position player pitch — ended as an experiment the Tigers would not be reluctant to turn to again, if needed.

That’s why manager Brad Ausmus, after the game, said he might have Worth throw in the bullpen every 10 days or so, just in case.

But at least there was more than silence in the Tigers’ clubhouse after such a lopsided loss.

“His knuckleball is legit,” Kelly said. “It’s hard enough to catch it, let alone hit it. I get mad at him if he throws it while we’re playing catch and doesn’t tell me.”

“It’s unbelievable,” chimed in Max Scherzer, “and he didn’t even throw his best one. He’s thrown it to me in past and nearly hit me in the face.”

You have a better knuckler than the one you threw, Danny?

“Yeah, but I wasted them all in the bullpen,” Worth said. “I was just trying to throw strikes too much, so it wasn’t as good.”

How long has he thrown a knuckleball?

“My whole life,” said Worth. “But I haven’t really pitched since summer ball in high school.”

“Me and Holaday mess around with it every day, though.”

Which explains in part why Holaday entered the game as Worth’ catcher.

But only in part.

“I’ve caught his knuckleball a little bit playing catch,” Avila laughed. “I don’t like him throwing it to me at all.

“When I went out to warm him up, I told him to throw all fastballs.”

Did he?

“He did.”

Tigers pitcher Robbie Ray lasted 3.1 innings Thursday at Comerica Park, allowing seven runs. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News