Cleveland — The brand of baseball the Tigers played in six straight losses to the Indians this young season won’t fly. Not if the Tigers are to contend in a competitive American League Central.
Manager Brad Ausmus is acutely aware of that and the angry tenor of his postgame comments Thursday, after the club was swept out of Cleveland 9-4, reflected his concern.
“Quite frankly, they kicked our (butts) all six games,” he said.
BOX SCORE: Indians 9, Tigers 4
Later, he added, “They outplayed us, they outhit us and they out-defended us. Period. They were the better baseball team out there. They’ve been the better baseball team the six games we played them.”
The Tigers mustered seven runs in the three games here. They scored in four of 27 innings. While the Indians were pounding out nine runs and 16 hits Thursday, the Tigers countered with a meager five hits.
“I don’t want them to get down,” Ausmus said. “But I hope they are (upset) about it. I hope they are (upset) and it reinvigorates their focus 24 hours from now. And I hope they hold onto a little bit of it for the next time we play the Indians.”
The Indians, who limped into this series after being swept in Philadelphia, ambushed rookie Michael Fulmer for four runs right out of the gate. In his second big-league start, he was hit with three singles and a long, three-run home run to left by Mike Napoli before he barely broke a sweat.
“I didn’t come out prepared enough,” Fulmer said. “I left a few balls up and these are major league hitters and they made me pay for it.”
He showed composure, though. He struck out Lonnie Chisenhall and Chris Gimenez to strand two in the first and then settled in.
“That’s the takeaway for him,” Ausmus said. “He had a rough first inning but he continued about his business and was able to give us some length.”
Most of the damage in the first came off his fastball and from the second inning forward he began to effectively mix in a slider and change-up. He got through the second and third quickly and the Tigers started to fight back.
“He had trouble commanding the fastball early and that led to all the runs in the first inning,” Ausmus said. “He settled down after that.”
Red-hot Nick Castellanos, who came into the game leading the American League in hitting, slammed a three-run home run to right field off Indians starter Trevor Bauer in the fourth inning to make it a 4-3 game.
“He’s been the most consistent offensive player we have, he and Victor (Martinez),” Ausmus said.
Castellanos’ homer (his fifth) was just the team’s second hit of the game.
Fulmer needed a shutdown inning in the bottom of the fourth to keep the momentum. He got two outs – on a double play neatly executed by Miguel Cabrera – but then center-cut a first pitch fastball to Gimenez.
He hit it over the wall in center field to make it 5-3.
“I knew after Nick’s home run I needed to put up a zero,” Fulmer said. “I got two quick outs, but, I left that four-seamer – it was supposed to be down and away and I threw it up. He made me pay.”
Fulmer found a way to grind through five innings. He allowed the five runs on 10 hits and struck out six.
But the hole, which would get deeper later, proved inescapable.
The Indians strung three singles and a walk off reliever Alex Wilson in the eighth, scoring twice on a single by former Tiger Rajai Davis. Until that inning, the Tigers’ bullpen had allowed just two runs in 31? innings.
An error by shortstop Mike Aviles, on a ball that would have been a double play, helped reload the bases against lefty Blaine Hardy.
The Tigers cut the lead runner, Gimenez, down at the plate trying to score on a wild pitch. But Michael Brantley, the longtime Tigers' killer himself, roped a two-run double that hit right on the right field line.
It was a four-hit, three RBI night for Brantley.
The Tigers scored the fourth run with two outs in the ninth off former Tiger Joba Chamberlain. Castellanos doubled with two outs and scored on a single by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
“It was a bookend of sweeps,” Ausmus said of the six-game road trip. “We swept one team (Twins) and another team swept us. Obviously, not too happy about the way we’ve played Cleveland, both here and at home. We just didn’t do much on either side of the ball.”