August 28, 2014 at 11:01 am

John Niyo

All of a sudden, stars aren't aligning for the Tigers

Detroit — Don’t count on any of this making much sense.

David Price turning into Vincent Price. Drew Smyly turning into David Price. Anibal Sanchez turning into a voodoo doll. The Kansas City Royals turning into the ’69 Mets.

That’s baseball, as they say.

But this? Two innings — “plus nine batters,” as the official scorer said — from the starter everyone calls a bulldog? Seven shutout innings from the bullpen everyone calls this team’s weak link?

Yeah, go figure. And if you figure it out, you might want to let Brad Ausmus know. Because on a night like this, when a dominant starter can’t get an out in an inning, and a sellout crowd of 40,876 has precious little to cheer but a pregame ceremony for an opponent, the Tigers’ manager was understandably at a loss.

“It was just an off night,” Ausmus shrugged, when asked to explain Wednesday’s 8-4 loss as the Yankees chased Price, the perennial Cy Young candidate, like he was a pitcher from the discount bin.

“I’ve had bad games before,” said Price, who allowed nine consecutive hits to start the third before Ausmus finally called the fight.

But “not that bad,” Price added. “That’s probably the worst game I’ve had in my life.”

That it came on the heels of arguably his best outing — a one-hit, complete-game gem in a loss at Tampa last week — made it all the more surprising. Maybe even startling, though Price did his best to brush it off afterward.

“It’s not about the outing before, it’s not about what I’ve done this year,” he said. “I’m human. I have bad games. And that’s what that was. ...

“It’s just one of those days. Everybody has ‘em. Hopefully, in five days when I take the mound again, it’s gonna be a lot better.”

'It's kind of all up in the air'

It better be, because the Tigers know they can’t afford too many more outings like this.

Not with a month to go, and ground to make up on the first-place Royals, who did it again Wednesday night, rallying in the late innings to beat the Minnesota Twins and extend their American League Central lead back to 2.5 games.

And not with Ausmus and the front office scrambling to try to plug holes in what once seemed like a leak-proof starting rotation.

With Sanchez stuck in injury limbo — he visited Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion Wednesday, but the team wasn’t offering many details — the Tigers will turn to another rookie today in the series finale against the Yankees.

Kyle Lobstein will get his first start after pitching 5.2 solid innings in his major-league debut Saturday. But there’s a big difference between mop-up duty and emergency surgery. So about the only positive the Tigers could take from Wednesday’s game was Ausmus getting seven innings out of his bullpen without burning any arms he might need to call on again today. (Only Patrick McCoy threw more than 30 pitches in relief.)

And after today’s game, Ausmus admitted, “It’s kind of all up in the air.”

That’s because he’ll need another spot starter for one half of Saturday’s doubleheader in Chicago, and then again Tuesday in Cleveland. Thus far, the rookie trio of Robbie Ray, Drew VerHagen and Buck Farmer has combined for an 8.44 ERA in nine starts, with the Tigers winning just two of those games.

'Sometimes this game doesn't make sense'

Which is why a loss like Wednesday’s stings so bad, as Price, who hadn’t allowed nine hits in a game since June 4 somehow managed to give up nine in a row — on just 13 swings — to start the third inning. The eight earned runs Price allowed tied his career high, matching the total from a 13-0 loss against Cleveland with Tampa in 2012.

This one wasn’t quite that lopsided. But it hurt quite a bit more, given the timing and the circumstance.

“I let the team down, and that’s the worst thing,” he said.

Thing is, no one could’ve predicted this.

Then again, maybe that’s no surprise at all, right?

As Yankees manager Joe Girardi said late Wednesday night, “Sometimes this game just doesn’t make sense.”

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/JohnNiyo

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, center, confers with bench coach Gene Lamont, left, and pitching coach Jeff Jones in the seventh inning of Wednesday's game. / Detroit News / Robin Buckson
More John Niyo