'Not real happy': Tigers start second half flat, fall to Jays

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Well, they didn’t exactly come hot out of the gates to start the second half of the season.

“Not real happy about it,” manager Brad Ausmus said after the Tigers were drubbed, 7-2, by the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday. “We had the (All-Star) break, had a chance to reset, then we don’t do much. We certainly didn’t do much positive.”

Steve Pearce and Jose Bautista hit home runs for the Blue Jays, but the Tigers contributed to their own demise with an unearned run and a season-high 10 walks, two with the bases loaded.

“You can’t walk that many guys,” Ausmus said. “You can’t have that many deep counts and keep turning their lineup over. The defense gets bored standing around. You can’t win games like that.”

BOX SCORE: Blue Jays 7, Tigers 2 

Tigers starter Justin Verlander was a victim of the deep counts, but again, he was working with an ever-shrinking margin of error. In nine of his 16 starts now, the Tigers have scored two runs or fewer.

“If it’s a four- or five-run lead, you might pitch differently,” said Verlander, who needed 114 pitches to finish 5 1/3 innings. “But when it’s 0-0 or you are losing by a run, and you lay a couple in there and give up a few runs quickly — game over.”

It was a 2-1 game when he left with one out in the sixth.

“I’m not happy,” said Verlander, who allowed just three hits and two earned runs. “On a personal level, I need to do a better job pitching later in games. That’s what stands out to me. The adjustments I’ve made have put me in a good spot to be successful. I need to be a little more efficient, get some quick outs and attack the zone early.”

Wojo: Needing some fire, Tigers can’t find a spark

The first two runs off Verlander came in the fifth inning and only one was earned. He grooved a 2-0 fastball (94 mph) to Pearce, who lofted it into the seats in left-center field. The second run was instigated when right fielder J.D. Martinez dropped a slicing line drive by Kevin Pillar.

Pillar eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Bautista.

Verlander, despite having allowed just three hits and a walk, was at 94 pitches after five innings. He was also developing a blister.

"It's not anything I haven't dealt with before," he said. "It bothered me a little bit that last inning; the ball was kind of squirting out of my hand a little bit. Nothing urgent. I've dealt with it before — more in the last two years than ever before. It's been part of my pitching for a while. It's not an issue that's going to prohibit anything."

After one batter in the sixth inning, his pitch count was at 104 pitches.

He eventually won a 10-pitch battle with Josh Donaldson, striking him out on a 3-2, 98-mph fastball. Verlander was up in the count quickly 0-2 and needed eight more pitches to finish him off.  That was the story of the night — a lot of long counts, a lot of two-strike foul balls.

“I look back at it, there were a lot of five- and six-pitch at-bats,” Verlander said. “They did a good job with two strikes of battling. A few times early in the game I fell behind, I was a little out of rhythm with the All-Star break and not throwing a bullpen (between starts).

“Obviously, I would like to have gone deeper in the game. Those guys did an excellent job, each and every guy, working the pitch counts. There weren’t many quick outs.”

Verlander apparently emptied the tank on Donaldson, because Verlander walked the next two hitters on nine pitches. He was at 114 pitches and Shane Greene was summoned.

After Greene got Troy Tulowitzki to fly out, Pearce hit a shot down the third-base line. Third baseman Nick Castellanos made a quick dive to his right to snare it, but his hurried throw to first was up the line and Miguel Cabrera couldn’t come up with it.

With the bases loaded, Greene walked Pillar to make it 3-1. It was a precursor of what was to come.

Warwick Saupold, who gave up Bautista's 15th home run of the season leading off the seventh, walked two batters. Left-hander Blaine Hardy walked three in a three-run eighth, including Russell Martin with the bases loaded. Daniel Stumpf walked one in the ninth.

“You can’t defend walks,” Ausmus said. “At this level of baseball, walks happen. But they shouldn’t happen like that. … It becomes psychological. If they fear the walk, it makes it more difficult to throw a strike.”

Tigers catcher Alex Avila lamented the number of walks.

“You can say walks are contagious, because they tend to happen in succession, in bunches,” he said. “But I don’t think so. It has to do with pitchers having pitches working well and certainly it can be a lack of concentration.

“But you aren’t going to win games when you walk that many.”

The Tigers scored an unearned run off Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez. Jose Iglesias and Alex Presley singled to start the fifth inning off Sanchez. Avila followed with a liner right at Donaldson.

He threw quickly to first, trying to double up Presley. The throw bounced past first baseman Justin Smoak and Iglesias scored.

Andrew Romine, starting at second base for Ian Kinsler (flu), hit his fourth home run of the season, his first batting right-handed, in the ninth.

“It’s frustrating,” Verlander said. “But baseball creates a unique atmosphere where you quickly learn to turn the page.”

Twitter.com: @cmccosky