Tigers' pitching woes continue: 'It's getting very old'

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — It started with a couple of calm team meetings.

Manager Brad Ausmus addressed the full squad and pitching coach Rich Dubee addressed the pitching staff. A week ago, the tone was calm and instructive. Stop nibbling. Stop being so fine. Stop trying to make the perfect pitch. Trust your stuff, throw strikes and work ahead in the count.

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey throws in the first inning Monday.

But, after another poorly-pitched, 7-2 exhibition loss Monday to the Orioles — the seventh loss in eight games, the fifth in a row by a combined score of 42-11, with 27 walks in those games — Ausmus’ patience was spent.

“It’s getting very old,” he said. “The way we’ve been pitching has been awful. I know it’s spring training and nobody is in midseason form, but we’ve got to pitch better than this. Even in spring training.

“You might have a game like this. But what it is, five or six in a row? You’ve got to pitch better than that. It’s still big-league spring training. It’s still big-league players. We’ve got to pitch better.”

BOX SCORE: Orioles 7, Tigers 2

Tigers pitchers — none of whom besides starter Mike Pelfrey are expected to make the 25-man roster — walked eight hitters, three in a six-run third inning.

And it’s not just the walks that are galling. Right-handed reliever Dustin Molleken, for example, walked three out of five hitters in the third, all three after he got to two strikes on the hitter.

“It’s not just Molleken; it’s everybody,” Ausmus said. “We need to throw more strikes, period. It’s as simple as that.”

Pelfrey’s performance was an improvement over his last, but that only won faint praise from the manager.

“I don’t know if I’d say it was good or bad,” Ausmus said. “It was just another day. He did some good things and somethings that weren’t good.”

Pelfrey was coming off a start where it took him 51 pitches to get four outs. He got seven outs on 51 pitches Monday, including two scoreless innings. He showcased an effective slow curveball (68 to 71 mph), especially in a nine-pitch second inning.

“I threw a lot of curves and I thought it was pretty good,” he said. “That was the positive out of the day. Obviously, things went haywire in the third, balls started getting up. But it was definitely better than last time.”

His fastball was clocking between 89-91 mph, much slower than normal, and his sinker was flat.

“Obviously, I know my stuff isn’t there yet,” he said. “The velocity is not there, But today, I’m not going to make a big deal about it, but my ball was flat. … My mechanics were the best I’ve felt, but my ball was just flat.”

He gave up four straight hits to start the third and left with a run in and the bases loaded. All of those runs scored, as the Orioles wound up sending 12 men to the plate in a half-inning that featured three pitching changes and lasted 35 minutes.

Pelfrey said he expects the velocity to come back as he builds his arm strength in the next couple of weeks, but it begged a question. He lost 25 pounds over the offseason. Is there a correlation between the weight loss and the velocity loss?

“I don’t think I lost four miles per hour during the offseason,” he said. “It’ll get there. Sometimes it takes a little longer.”

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Still, it bears watching.

“Truthfully, a little extra weight doesn’t hurt velocity,” Ausmus said. “It tends to help. But it’s not cut-and-dry. There can be a correlation but there doesn’t have to be a correlation. I do think his velocity will come up.”

Right-hander Edward Mujica, who has one of the lowest walk rates among active relievers, pitched a scoreless fourth, but even he walked two hitters.

Myles Jaye allowed a run and walked two in two innings.

The pitching highlight, though, was provided by power-throwing right-hander Sandy Baez. He fanned three in two scoreless innings.

“He was pretty good, especially his first inning,” Ausmus said. “You hate to daydream about a guy like that because he was just in A-Ball. But he seems like the type of guy who if he throws strikes could come relatively quickly.”

The Tigers two runs came in the ninth, courtesy of a two-run home run by Dominic Ficociello.