Henning: Tigers bats make Ausmus a better manager
Detroit — Brad Ausmus stood on the pitcher’s mound at Comerica Park late Monday afternoon, treating Tigers hitters to a typically comfortable round of batting practice.
A man employed as Detroit’s manager — even if some object — later took a break and hopped into the dugout to update media on injuries and pitching plans and the usual daily personnel matters.This made Monday like most Mondays during a big-league season as the Tigers got ready for a game against the Oakland A’s.
Ausmus’ team had lost four consecutive games and the town, and state, and general Tigers universe, were distraught over a club that was supposed to be good, that had started 3-0, and was now 8-9 and looking rather bad on all fronts.
“You get times like this and it never feels like it’s gonna end,” Ausmus said, looking feisty in a beard that hadn’t seen a razor for at least a couple of days. “Then you win a game and it’s back to normal.
“There are 145 games left. But you still want to win. You have to look at the big picture. But you’ve still got to win, today.”
In fact, a couple of us, chewing on the Tigers’ ways of late, had said the same thing a half-hour earlier, which made all the more sense after the Tigers later Monday pitched and slugged their way past the A’s, 7-3.
This wasn’t complicated, Monday’s turnaround. Nor did it have much to do with Ausmus.
Jordan Zimmermann started and gave up three runs, only one of which was earned. This is a brand of starting pitching in which he’s specialized this month and other Tigers starters haven’t.
Miguel Cabrera, who does the most to make an offense work, arrived at work Monday with a .206 batting average and one home run. A few hours later he had four hits, two of which were soaring homers to right field. This is Miguel Cabrera. The guy prior to Monday was someone doing a dismal Cabrera impression.
Justin Upton was at .214 (he later had a single and a sacrifice-fly RBI), and even if Ausmus had moved him to a back-end spot in the lineup, as so many were howling for, nothing of substance was going to change unless other bats were clicking.
Here’s what Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Martinez, the supposed mid-order crushers, collectively were batting when they got to the park Monday: .261, with five home runs.
By the time they had laid into the A’s, the same trio was batting .276, with eight home runs.
Victor Martinez hadn’t liked those early Monday digits any more than Cabrera. He lashed a single in his first evening at-bat and followed with a high-arc bomb into the right-center field seats.
This was hitting the Tigers had reported missing during that nine-game funk in which they lost seven times. Monday, true to the game’s crazy ways, the Tigers got 12 hits.
Zimmermann saves bullpen
The story in the four-game series opener against the A’s was not about juggling orders or blitzing the clubhouse with motivational spiels. It was largely about hitters shaking a slump that hadn’t made a lot of sense unless you realize this happens to all teams plenty of times during a seasons in a game as confounding as big-league baseball.
Zimmermann’s handiwork Monday was the more basic lesson in how players and not managers determine games and stop skids. Starters can’t throw strings of 25-pitch innings and expect that the scoreboard and the bullpen won’t show effects.
Zimmermann pitched two outs into the seventh. A bullpen designed to work best when it works least finished up minus any serious stress.
The trick now for the Tigers is to maintain Monday’s theme. That could be tough Tuesday when Mike Pelfrey, who has been hammered this month, takes his turn against the A’s.
But if this team is going to keep people from focusing on Ausmus as the reason for its woes — it’s irresistible, the one-man fix — the Tigers are obliged to pitch well on either side of Zimmermann’s starts and hit in the fashion they did Monday, which, for this lineup, was no stretch.
It’s still, potentially, a good baseball team that can hang in a playoff chase, especially if some young pitchers now apprenticing in Toledo can add some crust and boost a rotation and a bullpen that’s going to need transfusions.
The Tigers have one. And, like anyone who’d replace him, he’ll win or lose based on what the guys on the field do.