Hunter: Tigers' lineup lethal, despite struggles

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — The six times these teams met in April, the Tigers averaged 6.5 runs against the Twins.

The two times this month, the Tigers have averaged two.

It doesn't make sense to those in the Detroit clubhouse, and it really doesn't make sense in the Minnesota clubhouse — especially since the Twins' leader, Torii Hunter, knows just what the Tigers can do.

"We got six runs, but I was like, 'That's not enough! Let's try to get some more,' " Hunter, a Tiger in 2013-14, said after the Twins picked off a 6-2 win Wednesday night at Comerica Park. "That's a hard team to beat over there."

Tigers fans, at least the ones who vent their frustrations on Twitter, disagree.

The Tigers have scored two runs or fewer in each of their last four games, and nine of their last 14.

They managed to win Tuesday while only scoring two runs, but when the Twins got to six in the third inning Wednesday, a lot of hope faded.

After all, the Tigers haven't scored seven runs in a game since April 29.

Twins starter Ricky Nolasco (3-1) was shelled when he faced the Tigers in his first start of the season, but this time out, he went 5-1/3 innings without getting tagged for an earned run.

"I don't care what they haven't scored in two weeks, that lineup from 1 to 9 ... no lead is safe, basically," said Nolasco, who used a repertoire loaded with curveballs, sliders and sinkers to tame the Tigers. "The whole time out there, I'm thinking it's a 0-0 game. Because the next thing you know, you've got first and second, a couple guys on, then you got the meat of that order coming up, a couple swings, the ballgame's tied.

"So I never take that lineup lightly, no matter how many runs they are or aren't scoring."

That's the issue with the Tigers lineup: the meat of the order.

Miguel Cabrera has just four hits, all singles, in his last eight games. Victor Martinez struck out three times Wednesday, and looked awful doing it — which might convince the Tigers to start urging him to bat only right-handed until that knee is back to 100-percent strength. Yoenis Cespedes on Wednesday picked up his first RBI in May. And J.D. Martinez, well, he's been coming around, with a home run Tuesday and two more hits Wednesday — but then he departed the game with a low-back injury.

Hunter heaped a lot of praise on Nolasco, the veteran right-hander, saying "it's like a fight" to mow down that lineup.

He also said he believes Victor Martinez is the key to Detroit turning this slump around.

"That (slump) isn't gonna last long," said Hunter, who had a homer in the first inning Wednesday — just his second hit in 24 at-bats to that point against his old team this season. "Once Victor starts hitting, gets healthier, I don't know if his knee is bothering him, but once Victor starts hitting and all of those guys get a rhythm together, that's a dangerous lineup over there.

"When you're a team, all cylinders have to be clicking, pitching and hitting at the same time. It can't be one or the other. Once they start hitting on all cylinders — which I hope we're not playing them anytime soon — that's the team. That's the team in Major League Baseball to beat."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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