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Tigers excited for Upton's dominant day

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Tigers Justin Upton hits his second two-run homer of the game in the fifth inning on Sunday.

Detroit — If you missed it Sunday, there was an interesting sight in the Tigers clubhouse after Justin Upton hit his two home runs.

There’s always a little emotion in those moments, but after Upton’s home run, there simply appeared to be a little more excitement and fist-pumping.

Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez on the bases, too, were pumped.

Upton, obviously, has gone through a season-long slump.

But his two home runs in Sunday’s victory over Boston showed he could be turning things around, and his teammates were happy for him.

“It’s great,” said Upton of seeing his teammates’ reaction. “These guys are great. They just want everyone in this clubhouse to do well. They are always here to pick me up and I’ve been very appreciative of that all year.

“They’ve kept me in good spirits and when they see me do well, they’re excited it.”

Manager Brad Ausmus wasn’t surprised by the outpouring of Upton’s teammates.

“Most of the guys in there, somewhere, have struggled and they know what it feels like,” Ausmus said. “But also, they genuinely like Upton. He’s a good guy, a good teammate, and when he was struggling he would come to the field with a smile on his face and work and play hard every day.”

With the injuries the Tigers’ have, and the playoffs slipping away, they could use one of Upton’s hot streaks more than ever.

Ausmus gave Upton a few days off last week when the slump appeared to hit a peak, and Upton has come out of the mental break hitting the ball hard.

“He handled that fantastically,” said pitcher Justin Verlander of Upton’s three-day break. “I was talking with the guys the other day about how well he was — hey, look, whatever it takes to help win. He pinch-ran late in the game and was ready to go. You don't see that a lot of times from guys of his status, which was really nice to see.

“To see him come out the last couple days and do what he did, I know everybody in here is rooting hard for him and this city needs to be rooting hard for him because he can single-handedly carry a team when he gets hot. We’ve seen it in the past when he played against us and I’ve seen it from afar, so it's really good to see him swinging the bat the way he has.”

Ausmus likes the versatility Erick Aybar brings to the lineup.

“He can do a lot of things,” Ausmus said. “He’s a baseball player. He can bunt, hit and run, he makes contact. He’s the type of guy that moves the lineup along and gives you a lot of options.

“As a manager, you have a lot of things you can do with him.”

Break in the schedule

The Tigers begin a stretch of six games against last place teams — Minnesota beginning tonight, and the Los Angeles Angels over the weekend.

The Tigers, then, finish the month against the slumping Chicago White Sox.

It would appear the Tigers have a real possibility here to gain ground in the standings, though Ausmus necessarily see it that way.

“It’s not who you play, but when you play them,” Ausmus said. “If you catch them when they’re hot, it doesn’t matter if they’re in the hunt or not.”

On deck: Twins

Series: Three game series at Target Field

First pitch: 8:10 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 1:10 p.m. Thursday.

TV/radio: Tuesday-Wednesday -- FSD, 97.1; Thursday – FSD, MLBN, 97.1.

Probables: Tuesday – RHP Kyle Gibson (5-7, 4.90) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (6-12, 5.94); Wednesday – RHP Tyler Duffey (8-9, 5.93) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (4-2, 3.93); Thursday – RHP Jose Berrios (2-3, 9.28) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (1-2, 3.81).

Gibson, Twins: He’s coming off a complete-game victory at Atlanta. Lefties are hitting .330 against Gibson.

Sanchez, Tigers: He lost a no-hit bid with two outs in the seventh inning against the Royals. His career ERA against the Twins is 2.49.

— Chris McCosky