August 11, 2014 at 9:11 am

Lynn Henning

Battered bullpen, anemic hitting make for a fatigued Tigers team

Toronto — Imagining the scene in Detroit’s clubhouse following Sunday’s dizzying, 19-inning game at Rogers Centre, which was akin to a Cecil B. DeMille movie, an interesting exercise in anticipation.

It was assumed a team’s psyches would be more like battlefield corpses. The Tigers have been slumping horribly and inexplicably since the All-Star break, and their bullpen has been battered and reviled.

Toss onto a team’s pummeled consciousness a 19-inning game, in which the Tigers spent the last 15 innings scoring not a run, and you have a situation potentially as scary as that half-game lead they now hold over the second-place Royals.

But it was not quite like that in a visitor’s clubhouse as trunks were packed and showered players changed into the suits they wear on road trips, which is what the Tigers were facing Sunday night ahead of a charter flight to Pittsburgh.

Brad Ausmus most showed the stress of a day he spent mostly in the manager’s office after getting tossed by home-plate umpire Bill Miller for arguing balls and strikes.

Ausmus sat in his chair, behind a desk, still dressed in full uniform. He had begun the day, Sunday morning, in conference with Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers’ front-office general. They were busy figuring out a pitching roster now that Anibal Sanchez is gone for perhaps a month with a strained muscle in his right side and back-end reliever Joakim Soria is shelved for at least two weeks with a damaged oblique muscle.

And then Sunday afternoon — and evening — arrived. All six hours and 37 minutes. The Tigers, already without one of their essential bullpen troops, Soria, were so desperate for arms they ordered Tuesday’s starter, Rick Porcello, into the game for the 18th and 19th innings.

It was almost painful to ask Ausmus afterward just what he and Dombrowski might do for some semblance of a rotation this week, given that the situation was already so jumbled that Robbie Ray, acquired in the Doug Fister trade, is being shipped to Detroit from Triple A Toledo in time for Wednesday’s game.

“I have no idea,” said Ausmus, with a weariness you would have expected. “All I know is Verlander is starting tomorrow (today against the Pirates).”

Tough schedule ahead

This fatigue, both from Sunday’s game and from what has been going on with a troubled team, is of real concern with 47 games remaining on the regular-season schedule.

The Tigers are beaten up. They have the second-toughest schedule behind Baltimore in terms of playing contenders or plus-.500 teams during the season’s final seven weeks. They have two pitchers on the disabled list. They have a bunch of players who aren’t hitting. They are having their issues on defense.

This is turning into something of a crucible for Ausmus, who as a first-year manager is experiencing the harshest realities his job inevitably brings to a man. His team, which had not been playing well, as Dombrowski has acknowledged, is now beaten up.

If that sounds like a formula for missing the playoffs, it is. Unless, of course, the Tigers spin this script altogether differently, which can yet be done.

It begins with Miguel Cabrera. He showed signs Sunday of returning to his celestial ways, thanks to three singles and a 400-foot bomb that could have won the game and that Colby Rasmus instead caught against the fence.

Holding off the Royals

It’s a surge that must include Cabrera’s veteran cohorts if the Tigers are to withstand Kansas City’s hot ways and beat a team that has an eminently easier schedule than Detroit through these waning weeks.

Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter, Ian Kinsler, Alex Avila — they are the men who will decide if this team matches its generally superb starting pitching with some honest-to-gosh offense or continues to wither in inexplicable ways, the way the Tigers did during 15 crazy innings Sunday, and the way they have since the lights began going dim in July.

The bullpen, likewise, will need to swear off disaster. Too many meltdowns have made this race closer than it ever should have been. The Tigers got stunning efforts Sunday from Al Alburquerque, and even Blaine Hardy and Pat McCoy. It’s up to Joe Nathan , Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Coke, all of whom have pitched extremely well for stretches, to become the wipeout pitchers this team will require if Ausmus’ crew has any notions of playing in October.

Dombrowski has made his trades and withstood a barrage of injuries in 2014. It’s his team, his roster, and the accountability always falls first and foremost with the front office.

But enough healthy players, drawing fabulous paychecks, are still part of the core group. And it definitely is on them and their steward, Ausmus, to end what could rightfully be regarded as nonsense and wrap up a playoff spot that this team should own ahead of the Royals or anyone else in a division so welcoming.

On deck: Pirates

Series: Two games, Monday-Tuesday, PNC Park, Pittsburgh

First pitch: 7:05 p.m. Monday, 7:05 p.m. Tuesday

TV/radio: FSD/1270, 97.1

Tonight — RHP Justin Verlander (10-10, 4.57) vs. LHP Jeff Locke (3-3, 3.78). Tuesday — RHP Rick Porcello (13-6, 3.09) vs. RHP Edinson Volquez (9-7, 3.70).

Scouting report

Verlander: Everyone knows 2014 won’t be a prominent part of his career scrapbook. Been much better of late as secondary pitches have sharpened.

Locke: Not a flame-thrower. Gives up his share of hits and isn’t a heavy strikeout guy. But keeps it in the zone and makes big innings tough.

Nick Castellanos reacts during the Tigers' latest setback, a 19-inning 6-5 loss to the Blue Jays Sunday. / Tom Szczerbowski / Getty Images
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