June 14, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tony Paul

Tigers bullpen turns laugher into tense win, and that's embarrassing

Detroit — Dissecting another interesting Tigers game — they’re always interesting, it seems, one way or another — Saturday afternoon at Comerica Park, where the Tigers beat the Twins, 12-9:

Broken-down bullpen

At one point Saturday, the Tigers led 11-1.

At a later point Saturday, the Twins had Joe Mauer up with the bases loaded — and a chance to make it, amazingly, a one-run game.

The Tigers bullpen struck yet again, turning a laugher into a nail-biter.

And this was no laughing matter, at least as far as Brad Ausmus was concerned.

The Tigers rookie manager was pleased his team won a game — that’s not been so easy the last few weeks — but made it clear all was not well.

“It certainly didn’t go the way we wanted,” Ausmus said. “We’ve gotta find a way to get through that game with, what, a 10-run lead, and not have to burn all those guys in the bullpen.

“It was a day we could afford to give up a few runs, but we don’t want to be giving up runs like that. That just shouldn’t happen.”

Problem is, it’s happened before — the Tigers taking a huge early lead, only to have to scrape and claw just to win the game.

“It’s happened in a number of games,” Ausmus said.

Anibal Sanchez was cruising right along, but was at 100 pitches early in the seventh inning, so his time was numbered, for sure. He walked Kendrys Morales on four pitches, then struck out Oswaldo Arcia for the second time, before wild-pitching Morales to second and giving up a triple to Eduardo Nunez.

That was it for Sanchez, who departed up 11-2.

On came Evan Reed, who allowed one of Sanchez’s runs to score, then gave up one of his own.

In the eighth inning, the Twins scored three more — off Phil Coke and Al Alburquerque — which brought Mauer to the plate with a chance to make it a 12-10 game.

Ian Krol shut the door there, though, getting Mauer to ground to first and stranding three runners.

Krol, though, was tagged for two runs in the ninth, on a Brian Dozier home run, bringing the grand total for the bullpen to 223 innings, six earned runs on eight hits and three walks.

Heck, it got so tense, setup man Joba Chamberlain and closer Joe Nathan actually were warming up.

“Not only did Joba and Joe have to get up, we had to use everybody with the exception of (Corey) Knebel,” Ausmus said. “It changed rather quickly.”

What isn’t changing, however, is the bullpen’s inability to get hitters out consistently.

Joel Hanrahan hasn’t even faced live hitters yet down in Florida, meaning the former Pirates closer probably won’t be in Detroit until month’s end, if not even in July. And there’s not a ton of reinforcements down at Triple A, either — although a report from the Toledo Blade late Saturday indicates left-hander Blaine Hardy will get a shot starting Sunday.

For the most part, Ausmus and the Tigers are stuck with what they have — until general manager Dave Dombrowski can swing a trade, but that’s unlikely to be much before the July 31 trade deadline, as so few teams are definitely out of the playoff picture at the moment.

Sanchez keeps 'em guessing

The question on the sports-talk radio circuit lately has been: Who’s the ace of the Tigers, Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander?

The real question should be: Who’s the ace of the Tigers, Scherzer or Sanchez?

Sanchez turned in yet another beauty Saturday, a quality start to be sure. He allowed three runs, but he pitched even better than that, allowing just four hits and two walks while striking out six.

Truly, there are few pitchers more fun to watch than Sanchez, the right-hander who has been an absolute bargain for the Tigers since they stole him from the Marlins two summers ago.

Hitters have no clue what Sanchez is going to throw, in any count.

And, boy, does it show.

“Man, I think he’s got like 15 pitches,” Victor Martinez said. “He can throw any of them for strikes at any time. Besides that, he’s got a really good fastball. You just don’t know what to expect.”

Added Torii Hunter: “Well, maybe like 14.5 pitches. He throws everything. The cutter’s hard, then it’s soft. The change-up is hard, then it’s soft, The fastball gets up to 95, 96. He changes speeds well. He keeps hitters off-balance. You’re very confident he’s gonna give you every chance to win.”

Sanchez (3-2) really has four pitches — though he throws them all at different speeds. And Ausmus said all of them — expect maybe the curveball — can be thrown for strikes in any count, keeping it advantage Sanchez, even when the hitter is ahead in the count 2-0.

The Twins, the same team he nearly no-hit last May, sure weren’t feeling good about themselves.

But Sanchez was, especially when he walked off the mound to a thunderous roar from a sellout crowd. Halfway between the mound and the dugout, he tipped his cap.

“All the time I’m on the mound, you see that crowd, those fans supporting the team every single day,” said Sanchez, who at one point Saturday retired 15 of 17. “We need to do something extra for them. They make a lot of energy for the team.”

“That makes me work a little bit harder.”

Breaks prove invaluable

During this rotten stretch of baseball, nothing has seemed to go right for the Tigers.

But on Saturday, nearly everything did — especially in the seven-run third inning, when Torii Hunter hit a high chopper that bounced over third baseman Trevor Plouffe’s head for a double, Ian Kinsler hit a bloop single into center and Miguel Cabrera hit a seeing-eye grounder into center.

“It was nice to get that offensive explosion,” Ausmus said. “It took a couple of bounding base hits, a couple bloops.

“That’s what we needed, we needed a little bit of a break, something to go our way.”

Finally, yes, things went the way of the Tigers — who came in with a .200 winning percentage in their last five, .300 in their last 10, .333 in their last 15 and .350 in their last 20.

That, as they say, is baseball.

“At the end, you can hit balls hard and be 0-for-4 and you can hit balls soft and be 4-for-4,” Hunter said. “That was long overdue. It was pretty fun to see the guys running around and making this happen, and things going our way.

“Sometimes we don’t get the bloopers, we don’t get those lucky breaks.”


Anibal Sanchez was cruising right along, but was at 100 pitches early in the seventh inning, so his time was numbered, for sure. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News