San Diego – Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus didn’t literally pull his batting order out of a hat Sunday, but it was random selection nevertheless.
“Just mix it up and see what happens,” he said. “I don’t know that there is any logic behind it, you just hope it changes your luck.”
Trying to prevent the club’s first nine-game losing streak since September 2005, Ausmus moved Miguel Cabrera into the second spot in the order. Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez slotted up to the third and fourth spots.
“We will see what happens,” said Ausmus, when asked if Cabrera might hit second beyond Sunday. “We weren’t winning the other way. Just mix it up a little bit. The truth is, you could put these names in a number of different orders. This is just the way it came out of the hat and that’s what we’re going with.”
With a left-hander pitching for San Diego (Clayton Richard), Mikie Mahtook hit fifth, with Nick Castellanos, James McCann and Jose Iglesias rounding out the lineup.
“We would have still mixed it up, even if there was a right-hander going today,” Ausmus said.
Ausmus put the lineup together after the loss Saturday and ran it past Cabrera, who was on board with hitting second.
“Maybe it will change his luck, too,” Ausmus said. “He’s hit some balls hard with no results. We will see if it has any impact.”
Cabrera went 1-for-5 in the game and the Tigers did snap the skid with a 7-5 win. But as for keeping the lineup the same going forward, Ausmus said, “We’ll worry about that when we get home.”
Catcher James McCann has been champing at the bit. With Alex Avila hitting .325 with a .591 slugging percentage and 10 home runs, McCann has been relegated to backup status.
He’d only started two of the previous six games on this road trip. As is his way though, he’s remained quiet, professional and continued to keep himself ready.
“It is what it is,” McCann said before the game. “Ultimately, I want to win. Whatever it takes to win.”
McCann made a huge contribution to the win Sunday. He had a clutch two-out RBI double in the Tigers’ three-run fourth inning. He singled in the sixth and he threw out two runners attempting to steal second base – Wil Myers and Erick Aybar.
“Like I said earlier, I want to win,” McCann said. “Whatever I can do to help the team win, that’s what I am going to do. It felt good to get the hits, but I always pride myself on defense. And shutting down their running game today was huge.”
There was a different look in the eyes of the five Tigers relievers who pitched Sunday. There was a different level of aggressiveness to them.
“The big thing is to pound the zone, attack the zone and force them to swing the bat,” McCann said. “You are going to give up your hits and you are going to give up home runs – you just try to make it not be in big spots.
“But the daggers are the walks. We didn’t walk guys today. We forced them to swing the bats and you saw the outcome.”
From the fifth inning through the ninth, Warwick Saupold, Alex Wilson, Daniel Stumpf, Bruce Rondon and Justin Wilson combined to throw five shutout innings, allowing one hit, two walks and five strikeouts.
Alex Wilson may have set the tone. He threw hard, up and in, to both Hunter Renfroe and Jose Pirela. He backed them off the plate, which helped prevent them from diving across at his cutter. There weren't many comfortable looking swings against him.
Rondon, too, was sharp. In his first game back from his long stint at Triple-A Toledo, his fastball was popping at 97-98 mph and even touched 100 one time. But his best pitch was the slow, 85-85 mph slider. He got five swings and misses with it, striking out Austin Hedges and Renfroe.
Justin Wilson, pumping 96-97 mph, struck out Matt Szczur and Franchy Cordero, and got a jam-shot pop out from Chase d’Arnaud to end the game.
A much-needed bounce back after what they had been through. Over the last 15 games, the bullpen has given up 44 earned runs in 41 innings (a 9.66 ERA). On this trip alone, the bullpen was 0-4 with two blown saves – giving up 19 runs in 12.2 innings – until Sunday.
The eight-game losing streak had produced some mind-blowing statistical anomalies – and maladies.
Justin Verlander pitched five innings of perfect baseball on Wednesday, only to have the game blow up on him after a bunt single by Jarrod Dyson. That was a harbinger. Because in the last two losses, Michael Fulmer (seven) and Anibal Sanchez (six) each allowed just two hits and the Tigers lost both games.
That hadn’t happened in more than 100 years of Tigers baseball.
In the first six games of this road trip, the starting pitchers have compiled a 3.72 ERA and a .190 opponents’ batting average – and the team lost all six games.
The offense has averaged 3.3 runs over that stretch, despite having three players among the league’s top 10 in hard-hit ball percentage (Alex Avila, Nick Castellanos and Cabrera). On Saturday, three of the first five outs were on balls driven to the warning track.
“It’s baseball,” Ausmus said. “And baseball isn’t always fair. We just haven’t found a way to win and the other team has found ways to beat us. We’re not going to cry in our milk. Just move on.”
The most damning stat is this one: The Tigers have lost 20 of their last 28 road games, and over the last 15 of those, the bullpen has given up 44 earned runs in 41 innings (a 9.66 ERA). On this trip alone, the bullpen is 0-4 with two blown saves – giving up 19 runs in 12.2 innings.
Sanchez crafted his second straight impressive start Saturday, allowing two runs (one earned) and two hits in six innings. And for his efforts, he was abducted by the MLB drug testers after the game and asked for a urine sample.
“I don’t hit anything special on the (radar) gun,” he joked. “I don’t know why (they tested me).”
In fact, the fastball, clocking between 89-93 mph, was his least effective pitch.
“I was just working in the bullpen now trying to locate my fastball better,” he said Sunday. “It was my off-speed pitches that helped me more than the fastball.”
He was effectively varying his speeds with his change-up and curve ball and keeping hitters off-balance and on their front foot. The result, he got 10 groundball outs, seven in a row at one stretch.
“It’s something I did in the minor leagues every day,” Sanchez said. “I make a game plan and I take it into the game. That helped a lot. Just put in a really good game plan, really work on how to pitch all the hitters and then just try to hit my spots.”
Of his 77 pitches, 52 were strikes.
Around the horn
Andrew Romine was still extremely sore after taking an elbow in the lower rib area in a collision at home plate Saturday. He wasn’t in the lineup Sunday and expects that with the off-day Monday, he should be at full strength Tuesday.
He told Ausmus he would be available to pinch-run or play defense on Sunday.
“They didn’t feel it was necessary to get an X-ray or anything,” he said. “It’s just a matter of fighting through the pain.”
… Victor Martinez (irregular heartbeat) is expected to come of the disabled list this week. Ausmus said the plan was for Martinez to take a full round of batting practice Tuesday and then be activated Wednesday.