Ausmus: Too early to judge Tigers’ struggling rotation

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Justin Verlander

Cleveland – Manager Brad Ausmus admitted before the game Thursday that the uncertainty with the starting pitching was among his worries when the Tigers broke camp this spring.

“Yeah, it was a concern,” he said. “We needed some guys to get back to form. It was definitely on the radar.”

His concern has not been allayed as the club is finishing its sixth spin through the rotation. Other than Jordan Zimmermann, who is 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA, the Tigers’ starters have a combined 6.52 ERA.

Not good. Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, expected to the Nos. 1 and 3 men in the rotation, respectively, have been up and down. Verlander’s ERA is over 6.0 (6.49) and Sanchez’s is pushing 6.0 (5.87).

Veteran Mike Pelfrey, signed to a two-year, $16 million contract in the offseason, has yet to win and his ERA is also just south of 6.00 (5.68). The No. 5 starter, Shane Greene, is on the DL.

As a staff, the Tigers rank 12th in the American League in ERA (4.75) and 14th in WHIP (1.52).

Sub-optimal, certainly. But if you are looking for signs of panic, you are looking in the wrong clubhouse.

“It’s a very long season,” Ausmus said. “We are what, a sixth of the way through? I’m not going to overreact. Everyone wants to clamor for changes when some part of the team doesn’t go well. But what are the options?

“Do we have a bunch of guys at Triple-A throwing well that deserve to pitch up here? You can’t just make changes for the sake of making changes. I don’t think that makes a lot of sense.”

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Matt Boyd is 1-2 with a 2.20 ERA and 1.26 WHIP at Toledo. Daniel Norris is 0-2 with a 6.92 ERA and 1.62 WHIP. Michael Fulmer, who made his second start with the Tigers Thursday, may be in the best position to steal a spot in the rotation. But no change is imminent.

“He very well could (stay in the rotation),” Ausmus said. “But we don’t know what’s happening with Shane Greene. If Fulmer pitches well and he forces us to keep him here, great. I’d love for that to happen.

“But no decision is pending right now because we don’t know where Greene is. There is some uncertainty there.”

Anibal Sanchez

Greene threw off a mound for the first time Thursday. It would be the start of his normal five-day work regimen – Fulmer was starting in his spot – and he is eligible to come the DL next Tuesday.

But, as Ausmus said, there is no guarantee he’d be ready to make a start on Tuesday. He may need to make at least one rehab start in Toledo.

“It’s just too early to make a judgement call,” Ausmus said, speaking about the rotation as a whole, not just Greene.

That sentiment is shared in the clubhouse, as well.

“It’s just got to play out,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “These guys are too good to be pitching like they are. As the season goes on, they start to figure things out and things start to click and then they will be running on all cylinders.

“Now if we are talking about this in August, then it’s a different situation.”

To put this sample size into some perspective, top-of-the-rotation starters typically make at least 12 starts from August to the end of the season. The Tigers will play 56 games from Aug. 1 until the end of the season.

In other words, pitching staffs, or teams, are rarely defined in the first 26 games.

“There’s a whole lot of season left,” Saltalamacchia said.

He said he’s seen steady progress from Verlander, Sanchez and, especially Pelfrey.

“I told Pelf after his last start that was his best outing, as far as his stuff goes,” he said. “But whenever you’ve had four outings like that, things get magnified a lot more. That’s what’s going on now.

“Everyone is critiquing every little thing. If he doesn’t make a perfect pitch on every throw, everyone goes, ‘Aw, he stinks.’ That being said, he’s out there grinding away, trying to keep us in the game knowing he doesn’t have his best stuff, knowing he doesn’t have fan support. But everybody in this clubhouse is behind him.”

Saltalamacchia said what’s been missing more than anything is consistency. The talent is there, he said, and the competitiveness has not waned.

“No one wants to hear excuses,” Saltalamacchia said. “This is a team that wants to win. Nobody needs to hear someone complaining or worrying about something. We are all worried about each other.

“The only way we are going to do this is by competing as a team.”

Twitter @cmccosky