Oakland, Calif. – Just as the Tigers’ rotation turns promising, thanks to rookie pitchers and healing starters, that old sore spot, the bullpen, tormented the team Saturday.
The Tigers and A’s were locked up, 3-3, in the sixth after rookie starter Matt Boyd had survived a fill-in assignment and Victor Martinez had sent a Jesse Hahn pitch screaming into the right-field balcony for a two-run homer that tied the game.
But a half-inning later it was 8-3 after the A’s had torn into Warwick Saupold. And an inning later it was 12-3 after Alex Wilson had been demolished.
The Tigers have had a pogo-stick relief corps in 2016. Up one week. Down another. But on balance, the relievers have been reasonably productive as long as starters weren’t asking for too much help too early.
That wasn’t the case Saturday. And it’s not the safest of bets that Mike Pelfrey, who has had issues in 2016, will throw excess innings in Sunday’s series finale when the Tigers meet the A’s and their starter, Rich Hill.
Ausmus knows a bullpen is at its best when it’s used the least. The Tigers used five pitchers Saturday.
A team pushed back to the .500 mark (24-24) badly needs to win its road series against the last-place A’s ahead of a follow-up three-game set against the Angels at Anaheim. But leaving Oakland with a series conquest will, in all probability, require better bullpen behavior than the relievers displayed Saturday.
Saupold seemed a safe pick to open the sixth inning of what had become a tie game, thanks to Martinez’s blast. The Tigers’ resident Australian, and a right-hander, had pitched lovely baseball in three previous missions, his first in the big leagues.
But he had a dismal day Saturday, even if two of the five hits against him were ground balls.
“I just made too many mistakes, and up here they’ll make you pay,” Saupold said in an ultra-quiet Tigers clubhouse afterward. “We were in the game and, unfortunately, I didn’t do my job.”
Nor did Wilson, who isn’t sure what’s going on a season after he was pure gold for the Tigers.
The A’s ripped into him for five hits and four runs, pushing his season ERA to 6.11. In 59 games for the Tigers in 2015, Wilson had a 2.19 ERA.
“When I get hit like that, it’s pretty poor execution on my part,” said Wilson, who missed most of spring training with a right (throwing) shoulder issue, and apart from glimpses of his old self, has experienced a spring that has been closer to an ordeal.
“I’ve got to do my part better than I did today, or I’ve done recently,” he said. “Honestly, I haven’t been throwing quality strikes. I’ve been throwing strikes – but not quality.
“It’s a matter of inches. But I haven’t found that rhythm. I’m searching, but you have to hold yourself accountable.”
It wasn’t a complete wipeout Saturday for Tigers relievers.
Kyle Ryan allowed a hit but finished off the final two A’s batters in the sixth.
Buck Farmer worked the final 1.1 innings for the Tigers. He walked a batter but didn’t allow a single A’s hit, which was noteworthy on a day when the A’s got 17 of them against a battered Tigers staff.