Detroit — This is going to take some getting used to.
Instead of Miguel Cabrera (suspended), Victor Martinez (out for the season), J.D. Martinez (traded), Justin Upton (traded) and Alex Avila (traded), the Tigers lineup Saturday night featured four players who started the season in Triple-A, three of them originally signed to minor-league contracts — Alex Presley, Efren Navarro (batting fourth), Jeimer Candalario and Bryan Holaday.
With Justin Verlander traded and Michael Fulmer injured, the new ace of the staff is Jordan Zimmermann.
And things went crooked early for Zimmermann and the transitioning Tigers Saturday. The Indians scored four runs on six hits in the first inning and rolled to their season-high 10th straight win, 5-2.
It was the Tigers’ third straight loss and their seventh in the last eight against the Indians.
“I don’t think guys are happy because they want to win and the guys who are gone helped us win — and they were well-liked guys,” said manager Brad Ausmus, who served his one-game suspension and handed the reins to Gene Lamont. “Nobody is throwing a party over it.
“But the business of baseball; when you are a baseball player you learn to cope with it because you have a job to do. If you can’t cope with it, you probably aren’t going to be around long.”
The rest of this month will be more about auditions and evaluations than wins and losses for the Tigers.
“People think these games don’t mean anything, but they do,” Lamont said. “They mean something to these guys who are trying to show Brad and Al (Avila) what they can do. They say you get a chance to show what you can do in spring training, but I think these games are more important.”
One of the players who will get a long look is Candelario, the third baseman the Tigers got from the Cubs for Justin Wilson and Avila.
“He’s going to play,” Ausmus said.
What does that mean for starting third baseman Nick Castellanos? With Cabrera out, he was the designated hitter Saturday. But before the game he continued his tutelage in right field.
“I talked to Nick during the Colorado series and we will talk again,” Ausmus said. “I want Nick to be comfortable out there. For now, we can use Nick in the DH role.”
Asked if it was a matter of when, not if Castellanos plays in the outfield this season, Ausmus said, “I’m not saying that. I want Nick to be comfortable and buying in to it being a good move for him.”
Candelario, making his first start for the Tigers — against Indians’ ace Corey Kluber no less — struck out in the second and grounded out to first with runners on the corners and two outs in the fourth.
In the seventh, he grounded out to first — a productive out — advancing Mikie Mahtook to third. Mahtook, who had doubled, scored on a single by Holaday.
Holaday had two hits off Kluber, and is 7 for 14 against him in his career — go figure that.
“That’s why I put him in the lineup,” joked Lamont.
Holaday didn’t even want to joke about it.
“I don’t know, man, I’m just up there swinging it,” he said. “I just try to get a good pitch to hit and try to put it in play.”
Canderlario notched an infield single in the ninth off reliever Bryan Shaw, starting a short-lived and empty rally. Jose Iglesias ripped a two-out RBI single off closer Cody Allen before Ian Kinsler, representing the tying run, grounded out to end the game.
Without Verlander and Fulmer, and with Daniel Norris dispatched to the bullpen, the Tigers rotation is in flux.
After Zimmermann, the rest of the rotation lines up like this: Chad Bell (Sunday), Artie Lewicki (Monday), Anibal Sanchez (Tuesday), Matthew Boyd (Wednesday).
Bell and Lewicki have just been recalled from Toledo and both will be making their first big-league starts. Sanchez will come off the disabled list before his start.
Buck Farmer is also in the mix, though Ausmus said before the game he thought the club would stay with a five-man rotation. That means that Farmer, Bell and Lewicki will be auditioning for two of the spots.
Zimmermann settled down after the rocky first inning, but the early damage was fatal.
His troubles started when Presley misplayed a fly ball in the right-center gap off the bat of Bradley Zimmer. Presley was tracking it, but suddenly looked up at center fielder Mikie Mahtook and the ball fell in for a triple.
“There wasn’t any miscommunication or anything,” Mahtook said. “We both just assumed. I thought he had a beat on it, and I think he will tell you he was going to catch it. It was up in the air and we were both running hard. He peeked and I peeked and the ball dropped.”
Jose Ramirez followed with a triple, Edwin Encarnacion singled, Carlos Santana doubled and Abraham Almonte singled — four runs, six hits.
“That ball is a couple feet either way and it gets caught and maybe Zimm gets out of there with no damage,” Holaday said. “He battled. He forced some weak contact but they found holes. After the first, he pitched pretty good.”
Zimmermann put up zeros in the second, third and fourth, but allowed back-to-back doubles by Lonnie Chisenhall and Almonte in the fifth. He went five innings, allowing the five runs on 12 hits.
In the bullpen these days are six relievers who have a year or less of major league service time. One of them, right-hander Myles Jaye, made his big-league debut Saturday.
Jaye, 25 who has toiled seven years in the minors, pitched three scoreless innings, allowing only a single to Indians rookie Greg Allen (his first big-league hit) and an infield hit to Francisco Lindor.
“Definitely some jitters for sure,” he said. “There was some shaking going on in the bullpen. But it was fun. I have nothing bad to say about it.”
With one out in the ninth, though, he hit Encarnacion and Santana, and was lifted. Daniel Stumpf finished off the inning striking out Chisenhall and Almonte.
It was a strong debut for Jaye. He induced six ground-ball outs in 3.1 innings.
It was a big day for Presley, as well. Of the eight hits the Tigers got off Kluber in eight innings, four were by Presley, who is hitting .312 in his extended audition in right field. It was his first four-hit game.