Punchless Tigers waste strong start by Pelfrey

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Toronto — When a one-time Tigers whipping boy essentially puts a whipping on a team with the Blue Jays’ crew of crushers, and still loses the game, it’s time to wonder if this 2016 season isn’t inching closer to despair for Detroit.

They could not, in good conscience, have asked more from a starting pitcher Friday than Mike Pelfrey offered the Tigers in what turned into a 6-0 victory for the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

Six innings. One run. Effort. Guile. Guts.

And still the Tigers lost.

“Today was one of those days when we didn’t do much, and they did,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, whose team can’t seem to figure out in 2016 exactly how good, or how lackluster, it might be.

BOX SCORE: Blue Jays 6, Tigers 0

Never mind that the Bullpen Monster arrived late Friday and helped the Blue Jays to a bust-out seventh highlighted by Edwin Encarnacion’s 446-foot satellite launch into the center-field upper deck. The Tigers just as much tumbled Friday, this team that supposedly brandishes high-grade weaponry in its lineup, because it couldn’t manage a single run against J.A. Happ or Toronto’s band of merry relievers.

Seven hits. One for extra bases. Zero runs.

“It’s major-league pitching,” said Nick Castellanos, who had a single Friday and also struck out twice, which was a standard story of splits against Happ on a night when he struck out nine in 5 2/3 innings. “If a guy’s out there pitching well, he can shut out any lineup.”

It’s a puzzling bunch, the Tigers, who now have lost the first two games in a four-game set against the Blue Jays that resumes today at Rogers Centre. The Tigers will be up against another sharp pitcher today in Aaron Sanchez, so excuse the lads if they privately opt for an afternoon of kayaking amid Toronto’s lakeshore islands

Not that they aren’t sweating out at-bats and laboring hard. It’s simply that the Tigers, as was displayed again Friday, can have simultaneous breakdowns that ignite a sudden losing streak. And this latest string could be difficult to snap during the next two days against a talented Jays team that will be treated to replacement starters — Matt Boyd Saturday, Anibal Sanchez on Sunday — as the Tigers fight a multi-alarm rotation fire.

“We just couldn’t get the (hit) tonight,” said Ausmus, “that might have started the merry-go-round for us.”

Pelfrey, again, did his noblest Friday to give the Tigers a prayer. He escaped mayhem three times when he coaxed the Blue Jays into rapping his sinker into the turf for double plays. He got a terrific play from Castellanos at third. He had a couple of strikeouts and didn’t get burned by three walks.

But the Tigers, who had clobbered Happ in an earlier game, did the minimum against him and Toronto’s bullpen.

“He’s been around for a while,” said Cameron Maybin, who got a pair of hits against Happ in an 11-0 victory against the Jays and Happ on June 6 in Detroit. “He’s a smart guy.”

Castellanos agreed.

“He pitched up, he was tough, he commanded,” Castellanos said, “and he didn’t miss over the plate.”

The Tigers had two hits, both singles, and struck out five times in the first two innings. They got a leadoff double from Jose Iglesias in the third, but Iglesias, who has had his baserunning issues in 2016, had another when he romped for third base on a comeback grounder by Maybin. Out at third. No run for the Tigers when Miguel Cabrera followed with what should have been an RBI single.

Over and over the same wheels spun Friday. Sixth inning: Singles from Cabrera and James McCann, and a walk to Justin Upton. No runs because Victor Martinez popped out, Castellanos struck out, and Mike Aviles swatted into a harmless shortstop-to-second force.

Of course, the Jays weren’t going to settle for a 1-0 victory, a lead which they had taken in the fifth when Darwin Barney, who had doubled to start the inning, scored on a no-out double-play grounder from Josh Donaldson.

Once they had gotten rid of Pelfrey, the Jays gorged on a parade of Tigers relievers, beginning with Kyle Ryan (two hits, one walk), Bobby Parnell (two-thirds of an inning, three hits, including Encarnacion’s 446-foot space probe), and former Jays employee Mark Lowe (two hits, sacrifice fly) as they pranced to a 6-0 lead.

The Tigers?

They knew this weekend set against the Jays could be every bit as rugged as the early week’s three-gamer against the Indians.

The Tigers got at least one victory during this latest go-around at Cleveland. They’ve got two chances, with two emergency starters set to work for them, at Rogers Centre ahead of Monday’s arrival of the All-Star break.

It’s a breather the Tigers likely won’t oppose.