Detroit – The Tigers began the season with a rotation that featured an established ace, the reigning American League rookie of the year, two left-handers who made the 25-man roster out of spring for the first time and a veteran who missed most of the 2016 season with injuries.
Some inconsistency, therefore, was expected.
“It’s just reality,” catcher Alex Avila said. “These are human beings, not robots. They aren’t going to be perfect every time. It’s easy to say it’s difficult or frustrating. But it’s just the reality of the game and you’ve got to roll with these punches and continue to work, continue to try and find that consistency.
“That’s just the way it is.”
Is it ever. Over the last four times through the five-man rotation (20 starts), the Tigers have produced just six quality starts, two of those by Buck Farmer, who replaced Matthew Boyd in the rotation.
In those 20 games, the Tigers’ starter has gone seven-plus innings three times, six-plus innings seven times, 5.2 innings once and five innings or fewer nine times. In that span, the Tigers are 2-5 in starts made by ace Justin Verlander and reigning rookie of the year Michael Fulmer.
Hard for a team to get any traction in that scenario.
“I don’t really do much with it,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “You only have so many starters capable of pitching at the major-league level. We’ve got to find a way to make it work. Whether it’s a glitch or this is who they are, we’ve got to find a way to make it work.”
The encouraging part of this is the talent and track record of the pitchers whom Ausmus sends out there every fifth day. Verlander, even with his recent struggles, is throwing with his usual high velocity (95-98 mph) and his secondary pitches have for the most part been sharp. Other than his last two starts, Fulmer has been exceptional.
Daniel Norris and Jordan Zimmermann have both pitched better in recent starts. And Farmer, who gave up six runs in Tuesday's loss, had pitched 13 straight scoreless innings.
“You know every fifth day you got a guy who can potentially shut down a lineup,” Avila said. “It’s a matter of being able to put it together – locating pitches, being consistent with your delivery. It’s guys going through struggles being able to find that command, find that consistency in their delivery.
“But it has made for some taxing days for the bullpen.”
The Tigers rotation ranks near the bottom of just about every statistical category in the American League.
• 14th in opponents’ batting average (.280).
• 14th in WHIP (1.48).
• 11th in ERA (4.65).
• 2nd most hits allowed (397).
• 3rd most earned runs allowed (185).
• 4th most pitches thrown (6,142).
“On a daily basis, regardless of how that pitcher is performing, you are trying to make adjustments if you are pitching poorly,” Avila said. “You are trying to find a way back to what made you successful. This happens over the course of the year.
“Unfortunately, when our bullpen wasn’t going so good, our starting rotation was better. Now it’s flip-flopped a little bit. But you just keep pitching, keep playing.”
Only once in the last 20 games have Tigers starters spun quality starts in back-to-back games. When the Tigers won four straight games at the beginning of June, they did so with the help of just one quality start.
“They have the track record, so you expect them to bounce back at some point and start producing quality starts,” Avila said. “It’s something you just have to be patient with. Verlander will be fine. Other than the last couple, Michael has been good. Daniel, he’s young and he’s still trying to figure out how to do it.
“Sometimes it’s hard to be patient, but you have to be.”