Detroit — Playoff fever.
Brad Ausmus has a different thought about the Tigers’ race to win a postseason ticket.
He’d prefer something less hallucinatory, more matter of fact, as the Tigers wrap up their regular season and push for at least a wild-card reservation.
“We’re happy to be in the position we’re in,” the Tigers manager said Friday as the Tigers got ready for a weekend trio of games against the Royals at Comerica Park. “But we’ve just got to win games.”
Ausmus mentioned that the Tigers were “fortunate” to sweep their series at Minnesota and carry a four-game winning streak into Friday’s tussle with the Royals. He brushed aside a comment about Comerica Park and any home-field edge the Tigers might be pondering against the Royals.
“In baseball, it’s not that big of a factor,” he said, and no one was about to argue.
And neither was he accepting someone’s idea that players needed a pennant race to protect against “the grind” of a long regular season.
“The grind is end-of-July through August,” Ausmus corrected.
And then he said it again.
“We’ve just got to win games.”
The Tigers were 82-70 as they prepped for Friday’s game against Royals starter Danny Duffy. They had a half-game lead on the Orioles for a second wild-card playoff spot.
Following the weekend series, they’ll have seven games remaining, beginning with four against the Indians, followed by a three-game set against the Braves next weekend at Atlanta.
Ausmus said he had decided on a starter for Monday’s series opener against the Indians at Comerica Park.
Buck Farmer, the right-hander who needs to prove he can be an important pitcher in 2017, will work for the Tigers.
Farmer pitched into the third inning Wednesday at Minnesota before rain put an end to the game and forced Thursday’s doubleheader, which saw Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander start for Detroit.
Farmer had a bumpy stint Wednesday, walking a pair of batters, hitting another, and allowing a pair of hits. But he also struck out five Twins in 22/3 innings before rain washed away the game and all of Wednesday’s numbers.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia was Ausmus’ choice at catcher Friday, even if Duffy, a left-hander, was going for the Royals and James McCann is known to love left-handed pitching.
The reason: Saltalamacchia had three career at-bats against Duffy and two hits.
Both hits were home runs.
“An extremely small sample,” Ausmus conceded.
But he had other numbers to ponder. Specifically, how McCann had fared against Duffy.
McCann was batting .176 in 17 at-bats against one of the American League’s tougher hombres. He arrived Friday at Comerica Park with a 12-2 record and 3.18 ERA.
Thursday’s day-night doubleheader at Target Field meant the Tigers arrived in Detroit at 3:15 a.m. Friday. Ausmus got to bed at 4 but made the most of it.
“Slept till noon,” he said.
When he stepped into the Tigers clubhouse Friday, Justin Upton had slammed 13 home runs in his last 91 at-bats. He had 26 in 144 games.
But as much as Upton’s homers of late have been happening with amazing frequency, it’s the distance traveled that tends to make his blasts distinctive.
Rarely, it seems, does he hit one less than 410 feet.
“The ball comes off (his bat) loud and hard,” Ausmus said, happy that his left fielder’s power surge has helped drive September’s playoff push.
Royals at Tigers
First pitch: 1:05 p.m. Saturday, Comerica Park, Detroit
■RHP Yordano Ventura (11-11, 4.35): You can’t always be sure these days what you’ll get from Ventura, whose 2016 has been all over the map. Still throws hard, but his strikeouts are down and he walks almost four batters per game.
■LHP Daniel Norris (3-2, 3.63): He had to shake off a rough stretch of ailments, but now he’s healthy and looking like the smooth lefty the Tigers thought they’d see in 2016. Very good pitching repertoire with nice mound presence. And he fields his position well.