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Green: Ausmus unjustly taking heat for Tigers' swoon

Jerry Green
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — They were playing through the doldrums, a week of pratfalls and flip-flops, with curious questions about ineptitude and no convincing answers. This was Game No. 7 of the successive beatings in succession.

And the quick impression was: They lack life! They lack verve. They lack passion. They're drab. They lack gusto. They lack spark — and they lack Sparky.

The assessment, of course, is unfair, another hasty judgment of Tigers-kill. A reaction during another infrequent visit to the ballpark the other day before the Tigers' weekend in Chicago, trying to regain momentum vs. the piteous White Sox. They were, on this afternoon, in the process of losing the final game of a lost three-game series to the team with the most dreadful record in the American League — the Oakland Athletics. At home. After losing two of three the week before to the A's in California, a prelude to four successive beatings in Anaheim.

Those were not powerhouse teams victimizing the Tigers.

Borrowing Brad Ausmus' phrase about "silver linings," there is not a single powerhouse team among the 15 in the American League. Twelve of the 15 clubs are hovering a bit above .500, right there, or slightly below — a melting pot of mediocrity.

Meanwhile, the three million-plus citizen managers in town are after the scalp of Ausmus — judging from all the stuff on Twitter tweeted about alongside the Internet play-by-plays. Plus all that is gleaned from that font of information — sports-talk radio.

The strident voices of the always unprejudiced fans. Imperatively impartial, all.

New target

They don't have Joe Nathan to serve as scapegoat anymore, so there is always the manager to kick around.

Of course, it was Ausmus, who bashed in the left knee of Victor Martinez.

And it was Ausmus, who put the hurt on Justin Verlander's arm. And damaged Bruce Rondon's pitching arm as well.

And it was Ausmus, who inflicted a wounded knee on Alex Avila.

And yes, it was Ausmus, who allowed Max Scherzer to flit away to the Washington Nationals— without at least a follow-up bid.

And at the same time, it was Ausmus, who dealt Rick Porcello away to the Red Sox.

And it was Ausmus, who served as the media shill for Nick Castellanos through the apprenticeship seasons in the farm system.

Three years ago the Tigers won a pennant — and were swept by Giants in the World Series — with the best starting pitching staff in baseball captivity. They had Scherzer, Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister and Porcello.

Scherzer, Fister and Porcello were exiled, essentially deemed unnecessary.

Blame the current manager. The manager is always the scapegoat.

Boo in the second inning when Shane Greene, a new guy added to the starting staff, throws the ball away into center field.

Curse when Sanchez gets pummeled more frequently now.

Wonder why well into June the Astros, Twins and Royals are the cream of the American League. Right now.

My theory is quite simple: The Tigers at the top, Mike Ilitch, picked the wrong horse.

Max over V-Mart

They should have spent to retain Scherzer at the expense of Victor Martinez.

Scherzer had been the dominant pitcher in the American League for three seasons. It has been my contention that when Scherzer snubbed the Tigers' extremely generous contract offer during spring training 2014, he personally ticked off Ilitch to the point of good riddance.

The good riddance was a mistake. The insult was originated by Scott Boras, Scherzer's agent.

So the Tigers rewarded Martinez instead with a new contract worth $68 million over four years.

Martinez had a magnificent season in 2014. But Ilitch and Dave Dombrowski did not reckon that Martinez happens to be a fragile ballplayer. He missed the entire 2013 season with a knee injury and has missed much of this 2015 season, a similar casualty under the new contract.

Victor is due back soon — and his return will be greeted with much joy. Hear the citizen managers. And perhaps Martinez might reignite some spark among the Tigers in an American League that lacks, in truth, a quality baseball team.

My quick impression of the Tigers was that they lack life, passion, spark, emotion. Gusto.

That lack, for sure, reflects the beleaguered manager.

Brad Ausmus is not a man of showy moods. He was that way as a player — highly intelligent, insightful, a solid baseball guy. Pretty much even whether his team wins or loses.

He is not Sparky Anderson, managing with deep emotion, valuable experience – and gusto. He does not operate with the fire of Jim Leyland. He does not possess the showmanship of Tommy Lasorda, who was visiting in Comerica Park the other afternoon.

Ausmus is solid. He is smart and he possesses plenty of baseball knowledge. But he remains placid in a June crisis. The other day after defeat No. 7 of the extended losing streak he did not shout, he did not cringe — he answered all the questions tossed at him by a hungry media contingent. He answered in a quiet voice. Then stepped from the podium in the interview room.

And he left.

Departed, headed for Chicago and defeat No. 8 straight Friday night — in extra innings after squandering a lead with two outs in the ninth. The Tigers defeated again. By a quaint walk-off hit batsman.

Of course, the citizen managers might campaign on Twitter for Lasorda, who perhaps is available for a managerial gig. A manager with fire and anger and years of experience.

Tommy is only 87.

Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sportswriter.