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Tigers' nosedive continues in loss to Rays

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

St. Petersburg, Fla. — Not even their ace, their prize, a pitcher so many rivals would offer plenty to own, could steer the Tigers from their second-half slide.

David Price was a Las Vegas favorite to make Detroit's dimming playoff dream return to life Tuesday at Tropicana Field. But with scouts galore on hand, many of them taking notes on a Tigers ace who might yet be available ahead of Friday's trade deadline, Price had an uncommonly rough night as the Rays dumped the Tigers, 10-2.

"Probably the worst I've thrown the ball in a month-and-a-half, two months," said Price, who, insisted trade chatter had "zero effect" on his Tuesday numbers. "Tonight was all on me. I take pride in what I do and I didn't do it very well tonight."

It might have been decent of Price to assume full responsibility Tuesday. But it was misplaced. In losing their fourth straight game the Tigers played like a fourth-place club. And that is where they rest after the White Sox won to move into third place, pushing Detroit closer, perhaps, to becoming a wholesale seller ahead of Friday's trade-mart close.

"I don't care who's in front of us or who's behind us," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, whose voice was as low as his team's playoff profile. "We've just got to win."

BOX SCORE: Rays 10, Tigers 2

The Tigers are now 4-8 since the All-Star break and need a large game from Justin Verlander and a victory today to avoid a sweep by the Rays, another of those barely break-even (51-51) teams the Tigers haven't been able to conquer.

Does that change Detroit's disposition heading into Friday's 4 p.m. deadline? Not if earlier assurances from Tigers front-office chief Dave Dombrowski still apply.

But the sudden convergence of too few hits, and too many runs allowed, is how fourth place arrives and how trade strategies can change.

From the Tigers' perspective little about 2015 has made sense. And just to make this star-crossed season a tad more bizarre, not only did Price have hassles with his former team, a former Tigers prospect, Curt Casali, blasted a pair of home runs against Price to give Casali back-to-back, two-homer nights.

Price and Casali were stars at Vanderbilt, even if their Commodores careers didn't intersect. And here was a one-time Tigers minor leaguer batting a former Rays superstar and tearing into him for two bombs.

"I told him not to hit any homers off me before the game," Price said in what was then a reference to Casali's big Monday evening against the Tigers. "He's a Vanderbilt guy and he's going to need someone else to play golf with in the offseason."

Price, of course, is on most contenders' Most Wanted list as Friday's deadline approaches. He didn't have a particularly Price-like night Tuesday, allowing seven hits in six innings, including Casali's homers that were worth three of the five runs charged to Price.

But it's difficult for even a former Cy Young Award winner to win any game in which his partners score all of two runs.

Thanks to Yoenis Cespedes and his 17th home run of the season, a fourth-inning liner into the right-center field seats off Rays starter Jake Odorizzi, the Tigers were in a temporary 1-1 tie.

They had eight additional hits. But once they had aborted early scoring chances, highlighted when J.D. Martinez hit a leadoff triple in the second and was abandoned there, the Tigers were essentially finished.

The Rays and Casali instead starred. Casali was a 10th-round draft pick by the Tigers in 2010 and was making progress until the Tigers grabbed left-handed pitcher Kyle Lobstein in the 2012 Rule 5 draft.

The Tigers didn't care to return Lobstein to the Rays early in 2013, as regulations dictate when a Rule 5 player doesn't make the 25-man roster. The Tigers instead traded for Lobstein and sent Casali to the Rays after Rays scouts had written flatteringly of his power and potential.

In the fourth he hammered a Price change-up ("a bad pitch," Price said) into the left-center field bleachers, a two-run shot that put Tampa Bay ahead, 4-1.

In the sixth, he mashed a 90-mph backdoor cutter ("a good pitch," Price said) on a line over the right-center field wall.

That put the Rays on top, 5-1, and made a slew of eighth-inning tack-on runs the equivalent of a dessert cart for Tampa Bay.

Neftali Feliz was responsible for most of the sugar, allowing a leadoff homer to Evan Longoria ahead of a bases-loaded triple by Tim Beckham.

The Tigers are now 48-52 heading into Verlander's start at 12:10 p.m. Wednesday. The team tonight heads for Baltimore and a four-game series, although Friday's trade countdown could be the main calendar event for the tumbling Tigers.

Lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com/Lynn_Hen ning