Minneapolis — There’s a time to be worried and a time to be “uh-oh, what now?” worried, but the Tigers appear to have stopped short of “what now” Saturday night.
With Justin Verlander as the winning pitcher in an 8-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday night, to be exact.
The win followed the Twins’ 12-4 triumph in the first game of the day-night doubleheader, after the Twins had pummeled the Tigers, 20-6, on Friday night.
But as bleak as it looked after the first two games of the series, there was a sliver of sunlight.
If Verlander was able to turn in a solid performance after a shoulder scare that caused him to miss a start, and with Max Scherzer starting on Sunday, the Tigers could still split the four-game series.
Now, that’s their realistic hope for Sunday: Get out of here with a split.
Bent, but not broken.
“The first two games here were a bit excruciating,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “A split would be refreshing.”
Verlander added: “At this point, a split would feel great. With Max going for us, that helps to cool a team down.”
The Tigers got several important hits, but two were absolutely huge as they ended a three-game tailspin that began with a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay.
Eugenio Suarez put Detroit in front, 5-4, with a two-run single in the sixth. Nick Castellanos then made it a three-run lead with a two-out, two-run single in the seventh.
Joe Nathan allowed a run in the ninth but earned his 27th save.
As for Verlander, he was the winning pitcher, evening his record at 11-11. He didn’t pitch superbly, but settled down after falling behind early.
And that’s what the Tigers needed, along with their big hits.
“I think he got tired toward the end, but the first four or five innings, his arm really looked loose,” Ausmus said. “That was a good sign. It looked a lot freer than it did.
“His last time out (in Pittsburgh), it looked like he was throwing darts, like he was protecting something, and he didn’t do that today.”
Verlander left with two outs in the sixth and runners at first and second. Tigers had just taken the lead in top of the inning.
It wasn’t Verlander’s best outing, but at 105 pitches, at least it served notice he can handle a standard workload again.
Blaine Hardy worked out of the jam by getting the dangerous Danny Santana (triple and single off Verlander) on a fly ball to center.
Verlander’s only bad inning was the third, in which he gave up three runs as the Tigers fell behind, 4-2.
The Tigers picked away, though, scoring a run in the second, third and fifth innings before Suarez came through against faltering starter Trevor May.
“The Twins have out-offensed us by a lot,” said Ausmus, “but our bats have come around while we’ve been here.”
One of those bats, Miguel Cabrera, might not play Sunday, however, so he can rest an aching ankle.
As for the first game, the ridiculous occasionally becomes the sublime.
But it also can sink to being the ludicrous.
And it was to the latter that the Tigers’ generosity transitioned in the 12-4 loss, which was like rubbing salt into Friday night’s wound.
In Robbie Ray and Buck Farmer, Ausmus was going with young starters in both those games out of necessity, and as Ausmus said, “It worked out the worst possible way.”
Spanning Thursday’s game and Game 1 of the doubleheader, the the Twins scored in six consecutive innings. Not only that, but from the sixth inning Friday night through the third inning Saturday, the Tigers were outscored 23-2.
In Friday night’s game, the Tigers narrowed the gap to 6-5 with four runs in the fifth. But that’s when the floodgates opened, leading to 14 Twins runs.
They remained open with Farmer struggling Saturday — especially in the Twins’ six-run second.
“Balls up the zone,” Ausmus said of the way Farmer pitched. “With balls up in the zone, major-league hitters get hits.”
The Twins scored one run in the first and added six more in the second — “with everything going downhill,” said Farmer, citing in particular Eduardo Escobar’s one-out single after a leadoff bunt single.
“I didn’t recover from it,” said Farmer, who was optioned back to Toledo following the doubleheader.
The Tigers made a brief run at the Twins with three runs in the fifth while getting three scoreless innings from left-hander Kyle Lobstein, who made his major-league debut.
“At that point, I actually felt like we were getting back in it,” said Ausmus.
But a three-run double in the Twins’ seventh stretched their lead back to eight.
Lobstein threw 100 pitches in a relief stint of 52⁄3 innings. That left the Tigers with a reasonably rested bullpen in case Verlander struggled, which didn’t turn out to be the case.