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McCosky: Ausmus an easy target, but the wrong one

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Brad Ausmus

Detroit – I want to believe, I need to believe, that it's just a small but aggravatingly loud group of Tigers fans that blame this entire mess on Brad Ausmus.

Relief pitcher gives up five runs in the eighth inning and it's because Ausmus mismanaged the bullpen. Miguel Cabrera strains his calf muscle on a routine baseball play – running on a 3-2 pitch – and Ausmus is an idiot for sending him. He bats left-handed hitting Marc Krauss fifth to avoid a run of right-handed hitters against a right-handed pitcher, and clearly Ausmus is trying to throw the game – even though his other option was Alex Avila, who, like Krauss, is hitting under .200.

Had he batted Avila fifth, which he has, he would've taken heat for that, too.

Always, the player who wasn't used was the player Ausmus should have used. Always the move he didn't make was clearly the move he should have made.

Hindsight analysis makes geniuses out of everybody.

I want to believe, I need to believe, the majority of baseball fans in this town understand the game better than that. They get what he's trying to do, even when the desired results aren't achieved. They may even disagree with his decisions from time to time – second-guessing the manager is part of baseball's DNA -- but they do so without any hysteria.

They don't need to assault his character. They don't need to see his head on a stake.

They don't rant and rave on Twitter or sports talk radio. They probably know, too, it would be pointless. Their calm, rational points would just be drowned out and ridiculed by the lunatic fringe.

I have been hesitant to editorialize on Ausmus for the same reason. What's the point of trying to rationalize with a small but stubborn segment of the fan base that isn't interested in being rational?

But since when are players not accountable for underperforming? God forbid some of the ire be directed at those ultimately responsible for how the games are lost.

Right moves, wrong results

Go back to Tuesday night, another horrific late-inning loss. Ausmus was badgered afterward for not having closer Joakim Soria up and ready in the eighth inning. Seriously? It's a wonder he didn't just shake his head, get up and leave the room.

Aumsus managed his butt off last night. His maneuverings were just as essential to the Tigers having a chance to win that game as the home runs by J.D. Martinez, Yoenis Cespedes and Nick Castellanos.

He managed aggressively, as he must with the Tigers' playoff hopes fading.

Neftali Feliz stands on the mound after giving up a grand slam Tuesday night.

The Tigers were in a 4-0 hole before they even came to bat. Shane Greene continued an ugly trend of poor starting pitching. In the last seven games, the starters' ERA is 8.21. An absurd hurdle to continually have to clear.

Ausmus squeezed as much as he could from Greene. The Tigers had cut the lead to 5-3 and Greene was fading in the fifth.

With two on and two outs, he went to Blaine Hardy, his most reliable left-handed reliever, to get left-handed hitting Dustin Ackley. It's a move he would prefer to make in the seventh or eighth inning, but he didn't have that luxury Tuesday night.

To give his offense a fighting chance, he had to do what he could to stop the bleeding right then and there or the late innings would be irrelevant.

Hardy did his job and the Tigers rallied for four runs in the fifth to take the lead.

He called on Al Alburquerque to get right-handed Nelson Cruz out in the sixth with two on and a run in. Again, job done, lead preserved.

Ausmus used his second and last lefty reliever, Ian Krol, to get two left-handed hitters out in the seventh – Robinson Cano and Seth Smith – but with a one-run lead and right-handed power hitter Mark Trumbo pinch-hitting, he brought on right-hander Bruce Rondon.

Rondon gave up a single and a walk, but got out of the inning with no damage.

The riskier play would have been to let Krol face Trumbo in that situation.

The bottom line is, Ausmus was able to get that game to the eighth inning with a two-run lead. He used up his left-handers and two righties to do it, but he still had Neftali Feliz, who hadn't been touched since the Tigers acquired him, closer Soria, and in the event the game went extra innings, Alex Wilson.

Ausmus, by any measure, did his job. Feliz, as it turned out, didn't do his.

Players play

But the question afterward was why Soria wasn't ready to pitch in the eighth. Soria has pitched in three four-out save situations this season. Two in May, when his arm was fresh, were successful. The last one, against the White Sox, ended with a two-out, game-tying home run by Adam LaRoche.

On July 10 in Minnesota, Soria was hurriedly sent into the game in the ninth after Rondon had blown most of a 6-1 lead. Soria gave up a walk-off three-run homer to Brian Dozier.

Yet, there were those clamoring for Ausmus to do the same thing Tuesday night -- probably the same people who ripped him for rushing Soria into the game in Minnesota.

Brad Ausmus talks to his infield during a pitching change Tuesday night.

Ausmus has been criticized for two years for not having set roles for his bullpen pieces. Well, he's been desperate to assign the eighth inning to somebody. There haven't been any takers. Feliz seemed on the verge of being that guy.

To insinuate Ausmus didn't put Feliz in a position to succeed is ludicrous. Feliz is a former closer who has 96-97 mph heat on his fastball and a plus off-speed pitch. If Ausmus can't trust him with a two-run lead in the eighth inning, then he shouldn't be on the team.

But as always when a player underperforms it's: Why didn't the manager use the other guy?

If casting blame on the manager somehow helps ease your frustration over this fast-fading season, have at it. And, lord knows, Ausmus has made his share of questionable moves (all managers do).

But there isn't a manager in baseball, this year or any year, who is smart enough and clever enough to get his team into the playoff with one of the worst pitching staffs – rotation and bullpen – in the American League.

Twitter @cmccosky