Tigers dinged up in defeat, HR streak hits 13

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

St. Petersburg, Fla. — Once they had stretched their near-record homer string to 13 games, courtesy of birthday boy Miguel Cabrera’s 451-foot blast in the first inning, the Tigers might have thought more April merriment was bubbling Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.

Not quite.

Cabrera’s blast was it. Although they fired three more rockets at the warning track, all for putouts, nothing in the way of a scoring ruckus ensued as the Tigers lost, 5-1, to the Rays on a night when manager Brad Ausmus’ guys collected all of four hits.

BOX SCORE: Rays 5, Tigers 1

“We really didn’t swing the bats badly,” Ausmus said after the Tigers had seen their two-week record slip to 8-5. “A lot of balls were barreled and didn’t find a place to land.”

Cabrera had put the Tigers ahead, 1-0, when he tore into a 2-0 fastball from Rays starter Matt Andriese and sent it on a soaring arc high against the black batter’s eye above the 404-foot mark in center. It was calculated by ESPN’s Home Run Tracker to have traveled 451 feet on a night when Cabrera was observing birthday No. 34.

Cabrera’s bomb also made it at least one home run in each of Detroit’s first 13 games. That’s one shy of the Indians’ record set in 2002.

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It was also about as upbeat as Tuesday’s game turned for Tigers Nation.

Tigers starter Michael Fulmer was deadly early, with a slider straight from Hades. But he took a liner off his right calf in the second inning, and while he and Ausmus said it had no bearing on his pitches, Fulmer wasn’t in wipeout mode.

And mostly that was due to the slider conking out — especially the one No. 9 hitter Tim Beckham hammered into the left-field seats for a two-run homer in the third.

“Honestly, I think I was kind of gripping it too tight and forcing movement,” said Fulmer, whose slider normally runs in the 86-88-mph range but Tuesday was creeping into the 90s.

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Fulmer insisted the liner off his leg, which was fielded by Jose Iglesias and became an inning-ending putout, had no bearing on his pitches.

“It’s fine,” he said of his leg. “It stiffened up a bit. But there were no issues.”

Fulmer lasted six innings, corralling a quality start and pitching well enough to win had his mates been doing much with their bats. He was slapped for six hits and three runs on a night when he walked two and struck out five.

“A solid outing for sure,” Ausmus said of his starter. “If he doesn’t get hit in the calf, he probably pitches the seventh.

“I was concerned the whole time,” said Ausmus, who along with trainer Kevin Rand, had checked on Fulmer regularly and gotten assurances he was fine. “Those things tend to tighten up.”

Ausmus had other worries beginning with Justin Upton. While sliding into second in the seventh, working hard to break up Beckham’s attempt at a double play, Upton got a badly bruised right forearm when he collided with Beckham’s relay.

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X-rays were negative, but Ausmus said Upton was noticeably in pain in the Tigers dugout and he was pulled from the game. His status, of course, is day to day.

The seventh inning went down as Detroit’s last serious shot at the Rays.

Martinez led off with a walk and moved to second on Upton’s brave at-bat, which saw him work from an 0-and-2 count, to a series of foul balls, and then to a poked opposite-field single to right.

Collins was next and spanked a grounder up the middle that Beckham fielded and turned into a forceout on which Upton was clipped, with Collins just beating Beckham’s throw. The Rays protested two ways: that Collins was out, and that Upton’s slide was illegal and had interfered with Beckham.

On replay, the Rays lost twice.

And so, ultimately, did the Tigers when Alex Avila struck out, leaving Martinez at third. JaCoby Jones lined to Dickerson in left for the third out in what was a final missed chance for Ausmus’ gang.

Any further scoring came when the Tigers bullpen — some evil organ music, maestro — returned to its sometimes scary ways.

Kyle Ryan watched his ERA leap to 8.31 when he was socked for three hits and a pair of runs in the Rays’ seventh.

“He was throwing strikes in the spring,” Ausmus said of Ryan, who has walked five batters in 4⅓ innings this month. “But he’s having trouble throwing strikes now.”

Shane Greene was an upgrade with one walk and two strikeouts, while Warwick Saupold pitched a scoreless eighth.

The Tigers slipped to 8-5. And while they won’t complain about their record two weeks into a new season, they weren’t terribly proud of Tuesday’s numbers. Nor were they buoyed by that sight of Upton in the dugout, his forearm hurting, and an outfielder’s Wednesday start very much in question.