Detroit — This was a first.
For four years, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has been able to publicly explain, defend and occasionally excuse mistakes made by his players. He has never thrown a player under the bus in his time here.
But Nick Castellanos’ baserunning gaffe in the eighth inning of the Tigers’ 9-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Friday night tested him severely.
“I do my best to defend guys, but I can’t defend that,” Ausmus said. “I don’t know what was going through Nick’s mind. We were down three runs. You are going to have to ask Nick. ... I can usually give you some kind of explanation, but that makes no sense to me.”
The inning started ominously for Castellanos and got worse.
The Tigers were down 7-4. Castellanos led off the eighth with a slicing blooper down the right-field line. He didn’t run out of the box, and when it landed on the chalk line, he had to scamper to get to first.
“I didn’t know where it was,” Castellanos explained. “I was looking up to find it and looked right into the lights. I didn’t see it until it was on the way down.”
Though players are taught to run anyway, whether they see the ball or not, whether they think it's fair or foul, Ausmus gave him a pass for that.
“The ball was in the lights,” he said. “He didn’t see it. He wouldn’t have made it to second anyway.”
He did get to second on a wild pitch. With one out, James McCann walked. Ausmus sent John Hicks up to pinch-hit for Andrew Romine. Hicks hit a line drive to deep right field over the head of right fielder Max Kepler.
Kepler got back quickly and made a terrific leaping catch at the wall with his back to the infield.
Castellanos was halfway to third, ran back, tagged up and tried to get to third. No chance. He was thrown out fairly easily on the relay from second baseman Brian Dozier.
“I saw him jump and make the catch,” Castellanos said. “I read it right but I thought I left early so I tried to tag up again.”
It wasn’t that he’d gone halfway on the hit. He went back to tag up twice — once he thought he left early and the second time to be sure. In retrospect, yes, he knows he should have stayed.
“Yeah, I second-guessed it but I was already running,” Castellanos said. “They made a perfect relay and it was bang-bang. Looking back would I have gone? No.”
A few feet further and Hicks would have tied the score. If the ball goes off the wall, maybe two runs score and the tying run is in scoring position with one out. Instead, it’s an inning-ending double play.
Does that or does that not sum up this Tigers season? It was their sixth loss in seven games and they were playing uphill most of the game after starter Anibal Sanchez got bit by the home run ball again.
“He left a couple balls up and they took advantage of it,” Ausmus said. “Other than the two home runs, he pitched pretty well. But the damage was done.”
After he gave up five home runs in Baltimore in his last start, Sanchez vowed to come back strong in his next start. And he did. His command was better. His pitches, for the most part, were sharper.
But he was betrayed by a pair of two-seam fastballs that were up in the zone.
“The two pitches they hit for home runs, that’s the pitch I want to throw right there,” Sanchez said. “Those guys put really good swings on it and they were able to put it over the fence.”
A three-run home run by Eddie Rosario in the fourth inning and a two-run shot in the fifth by Max Kepler had the Twins up 5-1. Two pitches, both 91-mph, two-seam fastballs, pitches that are generally intended to sink but stayed up in the zone, were the culprits.
It’s been a good pitch for him. He used it to get a called third strike against Eduardo Escobar and a swinging strikeout against Jason Castro.
But Rosario and Kepler jumped all over it.
“All my pitches were working today and I threw a lot of strikes,” Sanchez said. “I worked to be ahead in the count a lot of the time, but they just really put some good swings on those two pitches.”
Sanchez had had posted three strikeouts and faced one batter over the minimum through the first three innings. But with one out in the fourth, he gave up back-to-back singles to Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano — both on off-speed pitches.
He threw a first-pitch two-seamer to Rosario, who slammed it into the Tigers bullpen in left field.
Sanchez got the first two batters in the fifth before Brian Dozier nubbed an infield single to keep the inning alive. The count went 2-2 on Kepler, and he fouled off a fastball and a breaking ball before Sanchez threw him two-seamer and left it up.
Kepler tomahawked it into the seats in right field.
“You have to give Kepler credit there,” Ausmus said. “It was not a bad idea (to go up and in with the pitch), but he was able to pull his hands in and hit it out.”
That’s 80 home runs allowed by Sanchez since 2014, third most in the major leagues.
The Tigers tried to fight back. Mikie Mahtook started the scoring in the second inning, hitting his eighth home run of the season.
Then in the fifth, down 5-1, they knocked starter Kyle Gibson out of the game. Gibson contributed to his own demise, walking Romine and Mahtook.
Romine scored from first on a double by Jose Iglesias. Iglesias scored on a single by Justin Upton.
But right-hander Ryan Pressly replaced Gibson and got Miguel Cabrera to fly out to right, stranding runners at first and second.
That was as close at the Tigers got.
The Twins kept scoring runs off the Tigers bullpen. Daniel Stumpf gave up a run, ending his 13 1/3-inning scoreless streak. Alex Wilson was tagged for an RBI double by Dozier and an RBI single by Kepler.
Chad Bell gave up a two-run single to Mauer in the ninth. Mauer had three singles.
“Our bullpen didn’t do much to keep it close,” Ausmus said.
It was a tough night for Cabrera. In the fourth inning, he hit a slicing fly ball, 109-mph exit velocity off the bat, that was headed for the wall in center field. Twins center fielder Byron Buxton turned the wrong way at first, corrected himself just in time to locate the ball, dive and make an incredible catch.
Cabrera stranded two runners in the fifth. Then, in the seventh, after the Tigers had scored a run on three straight, two-out singles (the last by Upton), Cabrera grounded out to end the threat.
Justin Upton had two hits and knocked in two runs. He is now third in the American League with 80 RBIs.
After the game, the Tigers sent outfielder Jim Adduci back to Toledo. Alex Presley will come off the disabled list and join the club Saturday.