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Henning: Ausmus' fate might be tied to Tigers' season

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Brad Ausmus

St. Petersburg, Fla. – Managing was a job he wanted, a job he figured he understood as completely as any catcher could who had spent 18 seasons as a big-league catcher.

But some aspects of running a big-league club have been a revelation to Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. The ironic part is that his biggest surprise has nothing to do with game duties.

"I would say media is one of the tougher things," Ausmus said Wednesday morning as the Tigers got ready for a series finale against the Rays at Tropicana Field – and for what they hoped would be an end to their four-game losing streak.

"It's 200 times a year," he said of sessions that typically last in the range of 15-20 minutes before a game, and perhaps 10 minutes afterward. "I knew it was twice a day every day."

But the questions, he said, can be fatiguing – even monotonous.

And those questions can be doubly difficult when a team too often does what the Tigers have been doing too regularly of late: losing.

"You probably carry the wins and losses more heavily than as a player," said Ausmus, who was twice with the Tigers as a catcher during his long career.

The Tigers are at a possible crossroads in their 2015 season. The team has slipped to fourth place. Friday's trade deadline offers owner Mike Ilitch's team an ever-narrowing period to determine if it will stick to its postseason goals, or sell star talent to contenders that would love to have David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, or other marketable players.

Ausmus is caught at the intersection of a team's dreams and pragmatism. If his roster is good enough to yet steal a playoff spot, he wins and assuredly returns in 2016. If the team fails – or undergoes a makeover this week – it could be tough, or even impossible, for a skipper to return for the third year of his contract.

Ausmus was asked if the degree to which a manager can influence a game had, in his mind, increased or decreased from his playing days.

"That hasn't changed," he said. "I knew from my days as a player a manager was very limited in influencing the outcome of a game."

In other words, it's up to the players. And the Tigers, in the view of Ausmus and probably others, have had too many alternating – or simultaneous – failures of pitching and hitting in 2015 to have avoided a 48-52 record.

A common refrain from Tigers followers is that the team lacks "fire," that it seems "dead." Ausmus was asked if this was another manifestation of the No. 1 cause for a team appearing lifeless: not enough offense.

"True, offense comes before the energy," he said as the Tigers dressed for a 12:10 game in which Justin Verlander was to start for Detroit. "When people are running the bases and high-fiving and scoring runs, it always looks like there's good energy.

"Why? 'Cause they're hitting."

The Tigers depart Tampa Bay after today's game and will fly to Baltimore. There they will play a four-game series against the Orioles at Camden Yards.