It's reaching now-or-never time for fading Tigers
Seattle — The Tigers took another punch in the gut in Tuesday night's 5-4 loss, getting walked-off by the Mariners and Kyle Seager in the 10th inning after staging a valiant eighth-inning rally to tie the game.
It was their fourth straight loss and ninth in their last 12 games. It dropped them six games under .500 and it ratcheted up the odds the Tigers will be selling off parts at the trade deadline.
“We can’t worry about that,” Justin Upton said. “If time runs out, it runs out. But if we worry about it, that will stop us from doing our jobs. It’s our job to show up here every day and try to win a ballgame.
“That’s all we can control.”
Manager Brad Ausmus has echoed the same refrain throughout the skid.
“Listen, I am going to come to the field tomorrow and try to win a game,” he said before the trip West. “Nothing changes in those players’ minds or in my mind. We don’t get caught up in what could be or what might happen.
“Feel free to talk about any topic, but we’re here to win baseball games on a daily basis. We haven’t done it consistently, but I still think this team can do it consistently.”
Ausmus has not held a team meeting since May 29 before a series in Kansas City. The team was on a 2-7 skid then and went 6-2 over the next eight games.
“Losing gets frustrating,” Ausmus said. “You want to win every game. But baseball doesn’t always work like that. That’s why I have said, you find out what type of team you have after 162 games, not 30 or 60 or 80.
“Now sometimes teams have to make decisions because a trading deadline is looming. But we are not at that point yet. I’ve been on too many teams that have gone too deep into the summer thinking they are a failure and ended up being in the playoffs.”
Whether he gets the option to manage this specific group of players deep into the summer remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the grumbling among the paying customers, particularly those venting on social media, grows louder.
Some of the complaints from Tuesday, though, were baseless. For example:
There was a general howling when Ausmus pulled starter Jordan Zimmermann with two outs and nobody on in the seventh inning. The Tigers trailed 3-2 at the time and Zimmermann had dispatched five straight.
The howling reached screeching levels after left-hander Daniel Stumpf, brought in to face left-handed hitting Ben Gamel, lost a nine-pitch battle and gave up a solo home run.
Why did Ausmus pull Zimmermann? Because Zimmermann had already alerted pitching coach Rich Dubee that he was running on fumes.
“The whole game I had to battle and work out of trouble,” Zimmermann said. “I was getting toward the end and I was pretty gassed. My velocity was down and I was doing all I could just to hang in there.”
The Tigers presently have two left-handers in their bullpen other than closer Justin Wilson — Stumpf and long-man Chad Bell. Ausmus has to be able to trust Stumpf to get one left-handed hitter out in that situation.
“Give Gamel some credit there,” Ausmus said. “He had a great at-bat. He fouled off a bunch of pitches. I don’t love the home run, but sometimes you have to give credit.”
Ausmus’ hands were tied on another late-game bullpen decision, as well. Alex Wilson was unavailable. He didn’t want to use Francisco Rodriguez, who had given up a two-run home run on Monday, either.
And, with the Tigers in striking distance, he had to use Shane Greene earlier than he might’ve liked. Greene got the final out of the seventh and dodged a pair of walks to get through the eighth after the Tigers tied the game.
But that started a chain reaction. Ausmus had to use Warwick Saupold, normally a long reliever, in the ninth. And after Saupold put two runners on with two out, he had to bring in Justin Wilson earlier than he wanted to extend the game to the 10th.
“That’s why I’ve been saying we need a third guy down there (to work in the late innings),” Ausmus said.
Justin Wilson didn’t have his command when he came back out for the 10th. He walked Nelson Cruz, then fell behind 3-1 on left-handed hitting Seager. Ausmus had the option of issuing an intentional walk there, but with right-handed hitting Danny Valencia up next, he opted against it.
That, again, led to some howling among the fan base, especially when Seager laced a game-winning double.
“We hoped he could get Seager,” Ausmus said. “I would rather he get Seager, then we could walk Valencia and face (left-handed hitting) Jarrod Dyson and then Carlos Ruiz.”
The rational, as it turned out, was better than the execution, which has been a theme for this ugly stretch.
“Clearly, things aren’t going our way right now,” Upton said. “We have to find a way to reverse it.”