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Wojo: Tigers picture clearing up, and it isn’t pretty

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — In a season of crushing blows, this was merely the latest, and perhaps the loudest. In one fateful game, the Tigers bared all their ugly wares, just in case anyone had forgotten.

This might be the one that kills them, unless it was the crusher a couple weeks ago, or one of the crushers before that. The Tigers lost as they have way too often, with awful starting pitching and an awful bullpen. Slap this one on the evidence wall at trade deadline time.

The Tigers fell to the Mariners 11-9 Tuesday night when their latest grasp for relief hope blew it. This time it was Neftali Feliz, recently released by the Rangers, who surrendered five runs in the eighth inning, including a grand slam to pinch-hitter Franklin Gutierrez. The bullpen was on its standard comical merry-go-round because Shane Greene was brutal again, knocked out in the fifth inning.

Brad Ausmus didn’t have much to say afterward, nor did many of the Tigers. Ausmus manages a bad bullpen and manages it haphazardly, which perhaps is unavoidable. If Dave Dombrowski still is contemplating what to do by the July 31 deadline, he saw a graphic example of what he has failed to do.

It’s not fixable in the short term, and Dombrowski indeed probably will have to do something he almost never has done here — sell off parts. David Price and Yoenis Cespedes are the primary trade possibilities, and it would be a painful exodus for owner Mike Ilitch. A little hot streak could have altered plans, and it’s still advisable for the Tigers to wait it out before dealing. But they seem incapable of sustaining anything.

By the eighth inning, Ausmus had used four relievers, and only Joakim Soria and Alex Wilson were still available. Ausmus felt he couldn’t use Wilson in case he was needed for extra innings, but why not try Soria for a four-out save? One of many tough questions Ausmus must face.

“We can get into the second-guessing based on results, but the truth is, I’d do nothing different at all in that game,” he said. “You try to put the players in position to succeed, you try and get through the game, and we were running short on pitchers.”

Rumors buzzing

Running short on pitchers in the game, in the season. The Tigers slugged three home runs, dug out of a 4-0 hole and took an 8-6 lead, all for naught. And now reality beckons. Accepting an uncomfortable fate isn’t pleasant, even if it’s prudent. Nobody rallies around prudence, which is why the Tigers have been so conflicted.

Before the game, Price said he’d like to stay and see where this leads, knowing he has no control over it. Ausmus did his best we’re-not-dead-yet monologue, knowing the next few games could determine plenty of fates.

If the danger of being dismantled is supposed to be a motivating factor for the Tigers, well, it hasn’t worked. All day Tuesday, word was buzzing of an impending sell-off, after USA Today reported Dombrowski planned to dismantle before the deadline.

I doubt the final decision has been made yet, but this game pushed it further down that path. The Tigers should wait until the end of next week, when their fate will be clearer — and the hungriest suitors will emerge. They’re 10-1/2 games behind the Royals in the Central and four games out of a wild card, and while their 46-47 record signals mediocrity, it didn’t signal surrender.

But then Greene and the bullpen were rocked yet again and the loss became nearly as bad as that 8-6 disaster in Minnesota.

“I don’t subscribe to the theory that we’re out of it,” Ausmus said before the game. “Four games out of a playoff position is far from out of it. I know everybody wants to make it a big story because the Tigers have been so successful, then all of a sudden we’re .500 with the trade deadline looming. It’s a big story to say the Tigers are sellers.”

Ausmus flashed some feistiness, sorely needed, about an hour after the Tigers held a closed-door meeting. No one would discuss the specifics, but in his remarks, the tone seemed clear, that the Tigers were determined to keep fighting.

But if they’re sitting in a similar, or worse, position in another week, Dombrowski indeed will field offers for Price, Cespedes and any of the other free-agents — Soria, Rajai Davis, Alex Avila, Alfredo Simon. That’s understandable, although I wouldn’t sell for the sake of selling. Price and Cespedes should draw sizable returns, but if pending free-agency lowers their value, caution is required. If Dombrowski isn’t blown away by offers of prime prospects, ride it out, no matter how nasty it looks.

Dear prudence

The Tigers starting pitching is second-worst in the AL with a 4.52 ERA, ahead of only the Red Sox. Can you imagine the misery of two months without Price and his 2.32 ERA?

Price is forced to imagine it because he’s in the same spot as a year ago, when Tampa Bay opted to sell and Dombrowski leapt in the final minutes before the deadline. Price will draw a contract comparable to Max Scherzer’s $210 million, and if the Tigers couldn’t keep Scherzer, how can they possibly retain Price?

They almost assuredly can’t, with so much invested in so few players, which brings us back to a dismal reality — yay, prudence.

“Yeah, I want to win here,” Price said before the game. “We have a very good team. This is hands down one of the most-talented teams I've ever been a part of.”

The talent pops up in tantalizing bursts. J.D. Martinez clobbered his 27th home run, a 466-foot blast that landed on the roof of the camera well in straightaway center field. But nothing lasts long with this team. For every obvious flaw, you can dig up a sliver of hope, if you’re so inclined. For instance, the Royals were 48-50 at one point last season, grabbed a wild card and made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.

“I’m disappointed in the record, and I’ll take the blame for it because of my job title,” Ausmus said. “But I still firmly believe over the six-month season, our record will be what it’s supposed to be, which is a winning record. ... You’d love to try to win the division, but we want to get to the dance, any way we can at this point.”

The Tigers have danced with danger pretty much the entire season. They just might have taken their last compelling whirl.