Detroit – As always when the ball club is sliding, the manager has to face a more rigorous line of questioning after games.
He had plenty of explaining to do after the Tigers were swept at home by the Indians, losing for the fourth straight time, 6-3 on Sunday.
Two topics got the most attention:
1. Why rest sluggers, albeit slumping sluggers, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Upton?
2. Why use Drew VerHagen as the emergency reliever after Shane Greene was forced out of the game when a blister split open on the middle finger of his pitching hand? Why not left-hander Matt Boyd, who was called up from Toledo presumably for the purpose of pitching in long relief if needed?
Ausmus had ready and logical answers for both.
He knew he would take heat for sitting Cabrera and Upton, especially for a game at Comerica Park. But he also believed it was necessary.
“You don’t ever want to do it,” he said. “Certainly the fans want to see Miggy play at Comerica Park and I don’t blame them. But sometimes I think it’s best to give guys a breather when you think they need one. And I felt like both could use one today.
“There is a pretty good chance it’ll never happen on the same day the rest of the season.”
Both ended up pinch-hitting Sunday, but for the most part they got a much-needed 24-hour mental break. Upton, who leads the American League with 30 strikeouts, has gone 3-for-29 with 15 strikeouts in the last seven games plus the one at-bat Sunday. Cabrera is on a 0-for-13 skid.
Combined, the Tigers’ Nos. 2 and 3 hitters came into the game hitting .214 with 43 strikeouts and just nine RBIs.
“Sometimes in baseball you can beat yourself up so much when you are struggling,” Ausmus said. “It’s best to take a step back, even if it’s just 24 hours. They take a lot of pride and care how they’re performing. I am hoping having this little more than 24 hours will help them reboot.”
Ausmus knew that Cabrera has had good production against Indians starter Carlos Carrasco over the years. But, Cabrera has good numbers against most pitchers.
“If you are looking to give Miggy a rest, you are going to have trouble finding a guy he doesn’t have good numbers against,” Ausmus said.
Ausmus was initially going to rest Cabrera on Saturday, but, as he said, his numbers against Indians starter Corey Kluber are “astronomical.” But right now, Cabrera isn’t hitting well against anybody.
“I understand people think guys like Miguel Cabrera should play every day,” Ausmus said. “But I think in order to have the best Miguel Cabrera, he needs to rest once in a while. And if you are going to rest him, it’s best to rest him when he’s scuffling a little bit.
“The same applies with Justin Upton.”
As for VerHagen over Boyd, the only reason the question came up is because VerHagen struggled and Boyd pitched well. It could easily have gone the other way and the question would have been: Why didn’t you go with the more experienced pitcher?
“The truth is, VerHagen has pitched in tough situations before,” he said. “We felt like if he could get through that inning and go a couple, get through the fourth and fifth, and if we could get a lead, we still have our guys at the back end and have the ability to hold a lead.”
VerHagen wound up getting touched for five runs and seven hits. Ausmus was jeered by the crowed when he finally went to the mound to pull VerHagen in the fifth, after he’d given up four singles.
“They got a couple of hits and they had runners at first to third (twice),” Ausmus said. “But who is better in our bullpen at getting ground balls and getting double plays? VerHagen. That’s why I stuck with him. I was hoping he could get a double play and get out of it.
“I wanted to keep the game 0-0 (when VerHagen entered in the fourth) and I went to a reliever we believe in. It just didn’t work out today.”