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Niyo: While Tigers’ bats rumble, ’pen causes quivers

John Niyo
The Detroit News
Tigers' Mikie Mahtook celebrates his two-run home run with John Hicks, who also scored in the eighth inning.

Detroit — They’re alone in first place. Might as well start there with this Tigers team.

And they’re going to hit, as promised. Tuesday night was just another example — albeit an extreme one — as the Tigers, despite a lineup that’s missing four injured regulars, turned a dead-armed Felix Hernandez start into a nearly four-hour batting practice.

But even that 19-run, 24-hit outburst couldn’t completely quiet the doubts, or even give the boo-birds a night off as the Tigers began a 10-game home stand at Comerica Park with another ugly ending, thanks in part to the unending angst about their bullpen.

When it was mercifully over, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus didn’t even need to check his watch. He knew it was late. Way too late, really. And even this early in the season, that’s still a concern.

“I mean, it’s 11 o’clock and we’re just finishing up the game,” Ausmus said. “I’d rather we were getting out of here at 10 o’clock when you have a lead like that.”

But no lead is safe for this team, it seems. No curfew, either.

And on a night where King Felix made a quick exit, then made travel plans to fly back to Seattle to see a doctor about his ailing shoulder, the Tigers still did far too much tossing and turning of their own.

From the start

Jordan Zimmermann had another lackluster start, and though both he and his manager deemed it an “OK” outing, it’s not at all what the Tigers need from him right now. He struggled with his command early and his final line — six innings, 11 hits, five earned runs with three homers and one strikeout — was propped up by three nifty double plays from his infield.

For the season, he’s sitting with a 6.35 ERA and a WHIP of 1.59, continuing a trend that dates all the way back to last May, when injuries helped derail a promising start to the veteran’s career in Detroit.

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Still, while Zimmermann struggled to miss bats, at least he seemed intent on throwing strikes Tuesday. The relief help out of the bullpen couldn’t even manage that with a double-digit lead, much to their manager’s dismay.

Ausmus turned first to Shane Greene, only to find a pitcher who looked like he’s in need of another minor-league stint to work on his mechanics. Greene faced six batters and allowed two walks and three hard-hit balls before a grim-faced Ausmus came trudging out to make a change with two outs and the bases loaded.

The Tigers, who tied a Comerica Park record with their 19 runs, still held a 16-6 lead at that point, but Ausmus wasn’t taking any chances, bringing in Alex Wilson to get the final out in the seventh.

“I wanted to stop the bleeding right there,” Ausmus said.

But there is always more bloodshed to be found with this bullpen, which entered the game with a league-worst ERA (6.63) and actually made it worse Tuesday night.

Walk parade

That’s because Kyle Ryan took the mound for the eighth and promptly walked the first two batters he faced. The Mariners’ 8-9 hitters, no less. And as bench coach Gene Lamont dialed the bullpen again, the TV cameras caught a glimpse of Ausmus seething as he paced in the dugout. Ryan managed to escape the inning with only one run allowed, but the crowd expressed its frustration then, just as the manager would later.

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“It can’t happen,” Ausmus said. “I mean, you can give up runs, but you can’t walk guys, you can’t get behind hitters. We walked way too many.

“Whatever (the reason) was, there’s no excuse for it. It doesn’t matter what it was. The truth is, we’ve gotta throw strikes. I don’t care if it’s a one-run game or a 15-run game. We’ve got to throw strikes.”

Rookie Joe Jimenez appeared to, actually, as he tried to work his way through the ninth. But after getting two outs he got squeezed by umpire Joe West and walked two batters as well, prompting another pitching change. Two hits and another walk later, Blaine Hardy finally induced the final out from Robinson Cano.

In all the bullpen needed 87 pitches to get the final nine outs, allowing four runs, five hits and seven walks in three innings of work.

So, yes, as blowouts go this one was a bit “frustrating,” as Ausmus described it. A short way of summing up a long, strange night, perhaps. But it's entirely accurate.