Henning: Get used to Tigers' ups and downs

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Detroit — It was late Monday night at Comerica Park and the atmosphere in a chilly ballpark was not greatly different than anywhere else in Metro Detroit. A town was giddy over its baseball team after the Tigers had scraped up a 2-1 victory over the Yankees to roll their record to 11-2.

Friday night, late, also at Comerica Park, and things had changed. There were a few crowd boos to match all the social-media strafing of a Tigers corps that had just lost for the fourth time in four days, this time 13-1 to the Indians.

This was quite the pivot a baseball club had pulled off. In the span of 96 hours, bats had gone limp, a few too many pitchers had blown up, and a team that had looked as if it was baseball's best and brightest bunch suddenly seemed lost and lifeless.

Or, as Brad Ausmus, the Tigers manager, said with a sigh while sitting at his postgame press parapet:

"It's a long season."

And it is.

This schizophrenic swing by the Tigers also helps explain why, for some of us, the 2015 squad was a particularly difficult bunch to gauge heading into April's schedule.

The teeter-totter might, in fact, be in motion for a while.

Turn for the worse

Detroit's starting pitching is its trademark and will often be sterling. But there will be nights when it doesn't stand up, when opposing arms such as that owned by the Indians' lightning right-hander, Danny Salazar, by comparison make the Tigers and a formerly unstoppable Tigers starter named Shane Greene look like cannon fodder.

That was the story Friday. Salazar struck out 11 Tigers batters in seven innings. Greene, who had allowed one earned run in three earlier starts, was socked for eight earned runs and lasted only five batters into the fifth.

That's baseball. And no one who follows the game would see it much differently.

The problem, for a fan base, arrives when everything that seemed so good suddenly turns disturbingly sour.

The Tigers pitched and hit at a colossal clip through their first 13 games. This week, with miserable weather a factor, things went south. And just like that the Tigers faithful wondered — and properly so — about a handful of issues.

Can the starters be trusted, especially when Justin Verlander appears to be weeks away from rejoining Ausmus' rotation?

Can that old aches-and-pain region, the bullpen, find enough stable, consistent arms to keep late innings from peril?

And will a lineup seemingly loaded with hitters avoid the brand of four-day freefall in which Ausmus' order slipped during three games against the Yankees and Friday's one-run effort against the Indians?

Heating up

The answer, almost certainly, is: Yes. Of course.

But there will be interludes, for sure, that will go either way. And that's not all because the Tigers will be doing their 2015 impression of Jekyll and Hyde.

The competition will be good throughout.

Lots of folks got dismissive of the Indians heading into this three-game series. They're the same astute folks who thought a year ago that the Royals were a waste of time and expectations because Kansas City started out so shoddily and was still a sub-.500 team in late July.

The Indians, for example, have in April been home to all kinds of polarized performers.

They entered Friday night's game with starters who, 1 through 9, featured these thrilling batting averages: .208, .224, .226, .216, .162, .231, .182, .207, .174.

They then trotted onto Comerica's chilled turf and punched out 15 hits, which included a pair of home runs and seven RBIs from Brandon Moss, who began the night with a .162 average.

In Cleveland's clubhouse Friday, the Indians were reminding people that they weren't as bad as that 5-9 record they sported upon arrival. Neither were they a band of incompetent hitters, which you might say was confirmed over the span of nine innings against Detroit.

They also would have nodded and said, yes, this is the kind of game we would have expected from Salazar, who can throw 100-mph fastballs and plenty of nasty side dishes.

So, as Ausmus said afterward, with that languid sigh: "It's a long season."

Indeed it is.

Prepare for a few more nights when a Tigers baseball telecast gives way early to Netflix or to a Bruce Jenner interview, as seemed to be the trend Friday.

And brace yourself, also, for some evenings and afternoons of scrumptious baseball, with hitting and pitching and fielding and all the other potions that make the game so entrancing.

Be assured they'll arrive in abundance, on either end of the spectrum, over these next 145 games.