Detroit — In the wake of an uninspired 7-2 loss to the Blue Jays Friday night, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus cleared the media out of the clubhouse at 3 p.m. Saturday and held a rare team meeting.
His answer, polite but firm, to questions regarding the motivation and content of the meeting, was: “None of your (darn) business. If it was your business, I would’ve invited you in.”
Team leaders Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton and Alex Avila also politely declined comment. There was apparently no front office personnel in the meeting.
“I was there,” Ausmus said. “That’s all you get out of me.”
The Tigers, whether in response to the meeting or they were just due, went out and pounded the Blue Jays, 11-1, on Saturday.
“You can definitely say it helped,” said Nick Castellanos. “You come in the clubhouse, everybody comes together and kind of speaks their mind. Nothing major.
“I don’t know if the win today was a result of the meeting — but you can say it.”
They certainly played with a different energy — though, as Ausmus said, it doesn’t hurt when they smack three home runs.
“There were a lot of good things that happened offensively,” Ausmus said. “Running the bases, tagging up, stealing bases, running on 3-2 counts. But it doesn’t hurt when you hit a couple of home runs.’
In the third inning, after J.D. Martinez rapped a two-run single, Miguel Cabrera tagged up and advanced to third on a fly ball to center field. From there he was able to score on a medium-depth fly ball to left by Mikie Mahtook.
In the sixth inning, Jose Iglesias singled and stole second. After a walk to Ian Kinsler, Iglesias alertly tagged and advanced on a fly out by Castellanos. He scored on a Justin Upton ground out to third.
The Upton grounder might have been an inning-ending double play, but Kinsler was running on the 3-2 pitch.
Cabrera then followed with a laser shot into the visitor’s bullpen in left-center field.
Those are winning baseball plays and they’d been largely missing in recent weeks.
Team meetings are generally scarce across Major League Baseball. The length of the season, the daily grind of it, doesn’t lend itself to frequent harpings from the manager.
“This isn’t football, where before every game on Sunday you have a rallying cry,” Ausmus said. “Baseball doesn’t have a lot of meetings. It’s too long of a season. If you have too many meetings, the message falls on deaf ears.
“Jim Leyland is the one who said, 'If you find a team that has a lot of meetings, it’s probably not a real good team.'”
The Tigers, though, haven’t been a real good team most of the season, as their 39-49 record entering Saturday’s game indicates. And they were an especially bad team on Friday night, walking a season-high 10 Blue Jays hitters, including two with the bases loaded and giving up another unearned run.
“There are times when you do have to talk as a group,” Ausmus said.
There were actually two meetings before the game Saturday. After the full team meeting, Ausmus and pitching coach Rich Dubee met with the pitching staff alone. Although Ausmus wouldn’t disclose the motivation or content of that meeting either, he was adamant on the topic of cutting down the walks.
“Last night was the tipping point, but we’ve walked too many guys anyway, period,” Ausmus said. “Maybe they got squeezed on a pitch here and there (home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt seemed to have a tight strike zone). I’m not saying it’s not possible.
“But we have to do a better job of throwing strikes.”
The Tigers rank ninth in baseball and third in the American League with 309 walks. They rank 28th in baseball and 14th in the American League with a 1.45 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched).
Friday night, five Tigers pitchers combined to throw 219 pitches, the most in a nine-inning game since 2004. It took 80 pitches to get through the seventh, eighth and ninth innings — which also featured six walks.
“Nowadays across baseball, pitchers get too caught up in trying to get swings and misses,” Ausmus said. “They get too caught up in swings and misses and velocity, rather than locating a pitch and getting a guy out in two pitches.
“We’ve got to get back to commanding the fastball.”
Thanks to eight strong innings by Michael Fulmer, the Tigers needed only 115 pitches and walked just one batter on Sunday.
“You are getting quick outs, you aren’t standing around on defense,” Ausmus said. “There’s just more of a flow to the game when you are throwing strikes.”