Detroit – Tough times, indeed.
The losing streak is now at four after the Tigers staggered through a three-game home sweep by the Indians – dropping the finale Sunday, 6-3.
“A baseball season ebbs and flows,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “We came out of the gate playing well and when you are playing well, you know you are going to win. All that it takes, whether it’s an individual slump or a losing streak, all it takes is one hit and one game and all of a sudden it’s erased.
“But sometimes the hardest thing is winning that one game.”
Right now, it’s a collective dysfunction. The hitting’s gone cold and the pitching staff is suddenly in chaos. And it’s been the erratic and inefficient starting pitching that has triggered the chaos.
“We're not clicking right now,” Ausmus said. “We're letting teams get out to quick leads, and even though we did a nice job of coming back and loading the bases late, we're just not rolling.
“It's good that we are fighting, but we aren't clicking.”
They’ve been playing uphill a lot in this stretch where they’ve lost seven of nine. Starting pitchers not named Verlander or Zimmermann have lasted five innings or fewer in the last seven games. That has taxed the bullpen. In this latest run through the rotation (five starts), the starters have worked 23 2/3 innings, the relievers 22 1/3.
The results have been sub-optimal, especially the last two games. The Indians amassed 16 runs and 26 hits.
Shane Greene looked like he was going to be a solution Sunday, pitching three scoreless innings. Instead, he inadvertently contributed to the chaos.
He developed a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand and it ripped open after he walked Francisco Lindor to lead off the fourth. His day was done, and there is a chance he might not be ready for his next start.
“It was bleeding pretty bad,” Ausmus said. “I am not sure he’ll have to go on the DL or not, but he’s not going to pick up a ball for a few days.”
Greene will fight that.
“If it’s up to me, I won’t go on the DL,” he said. “But it’s not up to me.”
Greene thought he had the blister under control after the third inning. Trainer Kevin Rand applied a super-glue type substance that sealed the wound. But a couple pitches into the fourth inning and it split back open.
“It sucks that I put the team in this situation,” Greene said. “… I could feel it coming. Like I said, it’s happened to me before, and I could tell that it might go, and it did.”
Right-hander Drew VerHagen was alerted after the third, but he didn’t start throwing in the bullpen until Greene was removed from the game.
“I was alerted before he went out for the third inning,” VerHagen said. “We knew he was having a problem with his finger and I was told to start moving around. I had enough time (to warm up). I could’ve taken longer, but that really wasn’t the issue.”
The issue was the balls the Indians hit off VerHagen over the next two innings seemed to have eyes. By the time Ausmus gave him the hook with one out in the fifth inning, the Indians had scored six runs.
VerHagen was charged with five runs and seven hits and got only four outs.
“I didn’t feel my stuff was good, but I also felt like that’s what I make my living off of – just coming in, being aggressive, attacking hitters and forcing them to hit it on the ground,” he said. “If you look at the hits, most were on the ground. I will continue with my same approach, just hope for better results.”
He gave up an RBI double to Jose Ramirez, RBI single to Marlon Byrd and an RBI triple to Tyler Naquin in the fourth.
In the fifth inning, after the Tigers had scored twice to cut the deficit to 3-2, VerHagen allowed singles to Jason Kipnis, Lindor, Ramirez and Byrd before being removed.
“He was a little off today,” Ausmus said of VerHagen. “A few of the balls were not well-struck, but they found a hole or he got a jam shot. He'll be OK.”
Left-hander Matt Boyd, just called up from Toledo, wound up being a bullpen saver. He allowed an RBI single to Juan Uribe in the fifth (run charged to VerHagen), but settled things down thereafter.
He wound up pitching the final 4.2 innings scoreless, allowing three walks and two singles.
“I need to be better out of the gate,” Boyd said. “Those runners ended up being the difference in the game. Those guys need to look up on the board and see a one-run game as opposed to a four-run game. It’s tough. I’ve got to be sharper out of the gate.”
If Greene can’t make his next start, Boyd would be positioned to step in. But Ausmus said no decision has been made.
"I felt calm and in control," Boyd said. "I just wish the circumstances were better."
The Indians lost their starter early, as well. Carlos Carrasco bent his left leg awkwardly making a play on a 3-1 groundout by Andrew Romine in the third inning. He had to be helped off the field and the initial diagnosis was a hamstring strain.
Trevor Bauer took over and limited the Tigers to two runs and four hits through the sixth inning. The two runs came on a two-out, two-run single by Nick Castellanos in the fourth.
The Tigers, playing without struggling sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Justin Upton – both were given a mental health day by Ausmus -- managed seven hits. They scored just five runs in the three games. They’ve scored just eight runs in their last five games going back to the series in Kansas City.
And yet, they were within a swing of tying the game or taking the lead in the eighth inning.
Down 6-2, Victor Martinez hit a long double to center to score Jose Iglesias from first. Reliever Bryan Shaw walked both Castellanos and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to lead the bases with two outs.
Cabrera came off the bench to pinch hit for Mike Aviles. The Indians countered with right-hander Jeff Manship. Cabrera worked the count full. With the crowd on its feet, Cabrera fouled out to first baseman Carlos Santana.
“This is why in baseball they talk about staying even keel,” Ausmus said. “It’s very important to understand when you come to the ballpark on whatever day, you could win. And a lot of times you should win. This team needs to have that mindset – we should win today. Even if you’ve lost four in a row.
“You have to come to the ballpark thinking we should win today. It’s not always going to happen but you have to have that mindset.”
The Tigers fall below .500 for the first time this season – 8-9.