Detroit — Somewhere it is written in red in the handbook on rebuilding baseball teams: Warning! The process is likely to be painful. Young, inexperienced players will take their lumps.
The lumps are coming in flurries for the Tigers.
The Central Division-leading Indians completed a four-game sweep at Comerica Park Sunday, pounding out an 11-1 win. The gap between the top and bottom of the division is vast and this was not a fair fight.
The combined score for the four games this weekend — 29-5. It was the Indians’ 11th straight win.
“I can’t sit here and say nobody in here is frustrated,” said left fielder Mikie Mahtook. “Nobody likes to lose; nobody likes to lose the way we’ve been losing. That’s just the competitive part of playing.
“We’re not frustrated because we don’t think we’re any good; we are frustrated because of the result of what is happening.”
With every passing game, there seems to be a play or an incident that further defines this confounding and suffering 2017 Tigers season. It happened in the first inning of this one.
Indians' Jose Ramirez, with two outs in the first inning, hit a screaming line drive over Mahtook’s head in left. The ball bounced twice off the yellow padding on top of the fence. Mahtook leaped for the second carom and tried to bat the ball back in play.
Instead, he swatted it over the fence. Home run.
“I've never seen a ball hit the pad twice — hit it, then go up and hit it again,” he said. “It was a weird deal. Obviously I gave it some assist. But I had made my decision, once it hit the first time, that I was going to try and bat it back in play — because I didn’t know where it was going to go.
“Unfortunately, it bounced toward me. I tried to catch it but I just knocked it over.”
He took some good-natured ribbing in the dugout between innings.
“Yeah, they gave me a hard time,” he said. “But it’s not like I got hit in the head and it bounced over (which happened to Jose Canseco years ago). It was nothing like that. But I had never seen a ball hit off the top of the wall twice like that.”
That was just the start of the damage inflicted by Tigers killer Ramirez, who continued his season-long assault on Tigers pitching.
“He’s hit us very well for two years now,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It seems like every player has a team they really do well against. We are the team for Ramirez.”
He went 5-for-5, all extra base hits, and knocked in three runs. He hit two home runs and three doubles — 14 total bases. In 15 games against the Tigers this season, he’s hitting .472 with six doubles, two triples and eight home runs.
Speaking through an interpreter, Ramirez said, “I feel confident. It’s all about confidence right now.”
He is the third player in Indians history (and 13th in Major-League history) to produce five extra base hits in one game — the last was Kelly Shoppach in 2008. He did it against the Tigers, also.
His second home run was a fence-scraper, too. This one went to right field, barely clearing the wall. The ball tipped off the outstretched glove of Alex Presley.
“Everybody has to look at themselves and try to figure out what they need to do internally to compete,” Mahtook said. “The frustration we have comes from the competitive nature of everybody in here. It has nothing to do with a lack of confidence in guys on the team or anything like that.
“But, yeah, frustrated for sure.”
Ramirez and the Indians spoiled the first big-league start for left-hander Chad Bell. He lasted four innings, giving up five runs and eight hits. He left a bases-loaded, no-out mess in the fifth inning for rookie Zac Reininger to clean up.
In just his third big-league appearance, Reininger did yeoman’s work escaping the inning with only one run crossing the plate.
Ausmus was asked about throwing Reininger into the fire like that.
“I like the way he threw the other day and I thought he might be able to get out of it,” Ausmus said. “But look, every single guy I bring out of that bullpen, with the exception of Shane Greene with Alex Wilson on suspension, is a rookie.
“These are young guys and whoever I went with was going to be a young guy.”
Reininger’s day got worse in a hurry. Francisco Lindor hit a 431-foot home run off him in the sixth. The ball landed just under the Pepsi sign in right field. It was his 26th home run, setting the Indians’ single-season record for shortstops.
Ramirez blasted a two-run home run off Reininger, as well.
Daniel Norris, making his first relief appearance since being sent to the bullpen, faced four batters and did not record an out in the eighth inning.
He gave up back-to-back doubles to Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion, before walking the next two and loading the bases. Joe Jimenez walked Roberto Perez with the bases loaded before getting out of the inning.
“Today was an off-day; it won’t be like this every day,” Ausmus said. “These guys will gain from the experience and be better for it.”
The Tigers' offense seemed to be in a hurry in this series, swinging early and often. In the four games, they drew three walks, two of them Sunday.
Right-hander Josh Tomlin, making his first start since July 30, didn’t allow an extra base hit in 5.2 innings and erased three runners with double-play balls.
“Miggy (Cabrera) is out; Victor Martinez is out; we traded Justin Upton: We just have a bunch of young guys without a lot of experience,” Ausmus said. “And we’re playing against one of the best teams in baseball and facing some of the best pitchers in baseball.
“Am I disappointed? Absolutely not. The effort was there.”