Ausmus takes a look at slumping Upton

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Anaheim, Calif. — Normally, manager Brad Ausmus lets hitting coaches Wally Joyner and David Newhan handle the day-to-day work with the hitters.

But in the case of Justin Upton, he’s made a crisis intervention.

“Every once in a while, I will get involved,” Ausmus said. “This is one of those times. I felt it was time for me to talk to him. We had a real good conversation.”

Before the game here Tuesday, Ausmus and Upton painstakingly pored over video, past and present, trying to find some clues for Upton’s current malaise. They looked at Upton’s swings throughout his 10-year career — from Arizona, San Diego, Atlanta and this season.

“I don’t want to get into the specifics, but hopefully it’s a step in the right direction,” Ausmus said. "We saw some things."

Upton came into the game on a 1 for 15 skid. He’s hitting .215 with 71 strikeouts in 181 at-bats.

“He’s a much better hitter than he’s showing, clearly,” Ausmus said. “We are talking about nine years this guy’s been in the big leagues with good numbers. He’s never struggled like this.

“There is no question in my mind it started out mechanical and then I think it became a little mental. At some point you have to wipe the slate clean mentally and say, ‘All right, we’re going to fix this. It might take time, but we’re going to fix this.’”

There were a couple of times this month where it looked like he was coming out of it, but he’s been unable to sustain it.

From April 29 through May 5, six games, he went 11 for 25 with just five strikeouts. Over the next nine games, from May 6 through May 14, he got just two hits in 33 at-bats with 18 strikeouts.

From May 15 through May 20, he went 7 for 18. But since he’s 2 for 19 with seven strikeouts.

“I think he’s disappointed in himself,” Ausmus said. “But he’s certainly putting in the work. He certainly cares.”

Patience thin?

Ausmus was asked before the game how this team might improve, where would those improvement have to come from?

“The improvement has to come from the guys who are struggling to get back to where they normally are, that’s how you get better,” he said. “The guys who are struggling below what their career norms tell you they could be. If those guys make a surge and the numbers correct themselves, that’s when you make steady production as a team.”

Ausmus was speaking in general terms about struggling players, pitchers included. And he made it clear that at some point, changes would have to be made if things didn’t start picking up.

“It’s a performance-based game at some point,” he said. “It’s baseball, so you have to be patient because it’s a long season. But at some point, if there has to be a change, there’s going to be a change. That’s just a general rule.”

Upton isn’t the only Tigers hitter mired in a prolonged slump. Jose Iglesias and James McCann have been fighting it the entire month of May. J.D. Martinez’s average has fallen to .251 and Jarrod Saltalamacchia is down to .191.

Around the horn

Ausmus and his coaching staff contemplated changing the batting order after the loss Monday night. In the end, they did not make any changes.

“We talked about putting (Cameron) Maybin in the two-hole,” Ausmus said. “But putting him in front of Miggy (Cabrera) and Victor (Martinez) would limit his ability to steal bases.”

He said they talked about flip-flopping J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos (two-hole and five-hole), too.

“J.D. was doing all right there, though he has struggled on this trip,” Ausmus said. “Nick’s been all right where he is. I’d almost be afraid to move Nick.”

... Both Jordan Zimmermann and pitching coach Rich Dubee gave to A-OK sign after Zimmermann threw a full bullpen Tuesday. He’s on track to start Friday against the White Sox.

…Former Tiger Jefry Marte was called up by the Angels before the game and got the start at third base. He was hitting .381 at Triple-A Salt Lake.

… Justin Verlander and Angels starter Jhoulys Chacin combined to retire the first 27 hitters in the game Monday night. Perfection through 4.5 innings. They were three outs away from tying the record of 30 consecutive batters to start a game, set in 1991 by Dennis Martinez of the Expos and Mike Morgan of the Dodgers. Martinez threw a perfect game that night.

Twitter: @cmccosky

Tigers at Angels

First pitch: 7:05 p.m. Wednesday, Angel Stadium, Anaheim, Calif.

TV/radio: FSD, 97.1

Scouting report

RHP Michael Fulmer (4-1, 3.97), Tigers: Coming off the best start of his young career, blanking the A’s on three hits over 7 2/3 innings. He had brilliant command of his fastball and expertly mixed in a heavier than usual dose of change-ups. The 103 pitches he threw were the most he’s thrown in a start, too. It will be interesting to see how his arm responds.

RHP Matt Shoemaker (3-5, 5.96) Angels: The Trenton and Eastern Michigan University product has turned his season around. Sent to Triple A after seven rocky starts, he has come back with a vengeance, striking out 23 in his last two starts. He’s been tough on his hometown team, too, 2-0 in three starts, allowing just one earned run in 19 2/3 innings — including 7 1/3 scoreless, one-hit innings at Comerica last August.