Losing streak reaches seven for frustrated Tigers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Washington, D.C. — There is frustration, for sure. There is disappointment. There is even anger.

But the prevailing mood in the Tigers clubhouse Monday after another sudden loss, the seventh straight — 5-4 in walk-off fashion to the Washington Nationals — was bewilderment.

“It (stinks),” J.D. Martinez said. “Everyone is out here trying. Everyone comes in here early, working hard, doing everything possible to try and perform and win a game and end this thing. But right now, the ball’s just not rolling our way.”

The game ended very suddenly. With one out in the bottom of the ninth, pinch hitter Clint Robinson — 4-for-26 on the season — hit a 1-0 fastball from reliever Mark Lowe. The ball sailed on a high arc toward the right field seats.

Both Lowe and Martinez thought the park was going to hold it. It did not.

Final score: Nationals 5, Tigers 4

“The guy comes off the bench — I don’t know what he was hitting but it wasn’t much — and just, bam,” Martinez said. “Walk-off home run. We’ve just got to keep our heads up and come back tomorrow.”

The Tigers frittered away a 4-1 lead, earned against right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who before the game signed a seven-year, $175 million extension to stay with the Nationals. Nick Castellanos, the American League batting leader who has been red hot, and Martinez, who was not, both hit impressive two-run home runs.

And, for the second straight start, Anibal Sanchez pitched a mostly solid game — but not good enough to win.

“It’s just weird,” Martinez said. “You can’t explain it. We put up runs and the other team comes back out of nowhere. Or we shut them down and we can’t put up any runs. It’s one of those things where it’s not going our way.”

Here’s an example of things not going the Tigers way:

After the Nationals tied it in the bottom of the seventh — and credit some brilliant relief work by Alex Wilson for dousing a first-and-third, one-out rally to keep it tied — the Tigers blew a golden chance to retake the lead in the top of the eighth inning.

Miguel Cabrera walked to lead it off, chasing Strasburg, who struck out 11 in seven innings. Castellanos followed with a flared single to right field off reliever Blake Treinen. Cabrera had to go hard to beat the force out from right-fielder Bryce Harper and appeared to jam his right knee into the base.

“He said he was fine,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “That didn’t impact him on the play.”

Cabrera, with nobody out, tried to advance to third on a pitch that bounced away from catcher Wilson Ramos. He started, stopped and started again and the throw clearly beat him to the base.

“It was a tough read, the way the ball bounced off the catcher,” Ausmus said. “Although I thought on replay he might’ve been safe anyway.”

Third baseman Anthony Rendon appeared to tag Cabrera with his glove while the ball was in his right hand. Ausmus challenged the call, but it was upheld, much to the Tigers’ chagrin, after just a 65-second video review.

“I saw the same thing (Cabrera was tagged with the glove, sans ball),” Ausmus said. “Some of the simplest things on replay become extremely complex for no good reason. I don’t understand it. I don’t get it.”

The Tigers still had Castellanos at second with one out. Slumping Justin Upton (0-for-13 with 10 strikeouts) fanned for the third time in the game. That brought up another slumping hitter, James McCann.

It was decision time for Ausmus. If he sent up Victor Martinez to pinch-hit with first base open he knew Nats manager Dusty Baker would walk him. Ausmus also knew that with Anthony Gose on deck, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was going to bat.

He chose to send Victor Martinez up first, giving Saltalamacchia a chance to hit with two runners on.

“I assumed Dusty was going to walk Victor, but ultimately you’re going to end up getting Salty to the plate,” Ausmus said. “Either hit him right away or hit Salty with two guys on instead of one. I was in between, quite frankly.

“I wasn’t sure we’d have another opportunity to use Victor because we were coming to the top of the order. I was in between. But if he walked Victor, I was hoping Salty could get a big hit with two runners on.”

Didn’t happen. Saltalamacchia struck out batting right handed against lefty Felipe Rivero.

Inning over.

Sanchez gave up a run and just three singles through five innings, and took a 4-1 lead into the sixth. But again, as in his previous starts, a couple mistakes put him in harm’s way.

He had two outs and two strikes on Daniel Murphy in the sixth inning, but couldn’t put him away. Murphy made it a 4-3 game with a long home run to right.

Ausmus could have pinch-hit for Sanchez in the top of the seventh, but decided to keep him in the game.

“He only had 70-some pitches and he was dealing,” Ausmus said. “There was no reason to pinch-hit for him. A pitcher who is pitching well with a lead is more valuable in that spot than a hitter.

“We were coming to the bottom of their order. I was wary that it was his third time through the order, but I thought he could get through one more inning.”

Didn’t happen. Sanchez couldn’t get an out in the seventh, and left with the bases loaded. He gave up singles to Michael Taylor and Danny Espinoza, and he muffed Strasburg’s sacrifice bunt.

But the Tigers pen minimized the damage. Kyle Ryan gave up a sacrifice fly to Ben Revere to tie the score, but Alex Wilson slammed the door shut and kept it 4-4.

Wilson struck out Rendon on three pitches. After walking the dangerous Bryce Harper intentionally, he got Ryan Zimmerman to pop out to Cabrera at first.

But that just set up another late-inning dagger.

“It’ll change,” J.D. Martinez said. “We’re not worried about it not changing. We’re just stressing a little bit trying to change it instead of having fun. When we were in that winning streak before this we were just going out and having fun and winning.

“When you are winning and performing, this game can be fun. When you lose and you are not performing, this game can be pretty harsh.”

Twitter: @cmccosky