San Diego — Maybe it’s gallows humor. Maybe it’s just a slice of his infamous sarcasm. But manager Brad Ausmus will not allow himself to get thrown off the task by talk of his impending demise.
“I am not comfortable unless my (butt) is hot,” he joked before Saturday's game against the Padres. “I have heated seats. All my seats are heated.”
Truth is, this is familiar ground for Ausmus and it has almost a Groundhog’s Day feel for him. A "Fire Ausmus" fan campaign has happened in each of the last three years. Two years ago, some media outlets reported he had been fired.
It happened in May last year, around the time the Tigers hit a seven-game losing skid — the same skid they took into the game Saturday.
And even though general manager Al Avila has shown no inclination to change managers, even though he exonerated him for much of what’s gone on during this losing streak, the "Fire Ausmus" clamor among the paying customers is loud.
“A lot of things that have gone on are, quite frankly, not his doing,” Avila said on Friday. “I think some of (the public outcry) is really misplaced. I think it's more frustration. I'm frustrated. We're not happy.
“It's just frustration, and I think people are lashing out. We're all working hard to try to make this work.”
A string of injuries, underperformance by key players with successful track records, unreliable pitching, particularly from the bullpen — these factors, none controlled by the manager, have conspired to wreck the last three seasons, including this one so far.
“I don’t worry about it,” Ausmus said. “I guess I worry about it less now since my contract is over at the end of the year anyway.”
Worrying about his own future, he believes, is pointless and would detract from his mission, which is to find a way to turn the season around.
“I’m not folding up shop,” he said. “That’s not how I operate. That’s why I don’t worry. You just keep grinding and fighting until someone tells you we don’t want you around to fight anymore.”
Ausmus looks around the clubhouse and he sees his players still committed to the task. There has been no lack of effort or lack of caring among the players. There’s been no quit.
“I still like this team,” he said. “I don’t even want to say we’ve played terribly. We just haven’t won. But these guys care. They’re not distracted. They are coming to the park every day with a good attitude, still getting their work in. It just hasn’t happened.”
He said the energy in the dugout Friday, in a dispiriting 1-0 loss, was electric. As long as that is the case, he will continue to stay the course.
“Two things I knew for sure coming in,” Ausmus said, meaning when he was first hired to manage the Tigers before the 2014 season. “A lot of what happens with a baseball team is out of the manager’s control.
“And, when I was hired, at some point, there was a good chance I was going to get fired. Not many managers leave on their own terms. It’s part of the landscape in baseball, and in sports. So if you know that going in, you aren’t surprised when people talk about it.”