'Definitely weird': Following Ausmus news, Tigers lose
Detroit — The rules of baseball mandated the Tigers and Twins play the second of their four-game series Friday night. But after all the pregame news, it seemed a tad anticlimactic — at least for the home team.
The Twins continued to cement their hold on the second wild-card spot with a methodical, 7-3 win over the Tigers, who were playing after the announcement was made that manager Brad Ausmus would not be offered a contract for 2018.
“It was definitely weird,” said Daniel Norris, who gave up five runs in 4 2/3 innings in his first start since July 7. “I’ve never experienced that before. But from my perspective, it’s not like Brad checked out; not like he turned in his key and said, ‘I’ll be an auto-bot here.’
“He obviously still cares and he wants to win.”
Ausmus, when he was informed by general manager Al Avila on Wednesday that he would not be back in 2018, asked if he could finish out the season.
“I told Al I’d like to finish what we started,” he said. “Obviously it hasn’t gone the way we wanted but I still wanted to finish what we started. I’ve never considered myself a quitter. … Make no mistake, even though I’m not coming back, I want these guys to do well.
“I want them to feel good about themselves moving forward.”
Ian Kinsler, who along with Nick Castellanos hit long home runs beyond the bullpen in left field Friday, said of the announcement, “I had zero emotion to it. That’s not my job. As of right now, we have a week and a half left and we’re going to continue to play these games to the best of our ability and that’s it.”
He was told his zero-emotion comment could be misconstrued as being negative toward Ausmus.
“It’s not that I don’t have emotion for Brad; I have emotion for Brad,” he said. “Obviously, I spent four years with the guy and went through a lot of different situations with the him as a manager.
“I definitely have emotions toward Brad, but that’s not my decision. I just react to situations. We have nine games left and we’re going to continue to play hard and that’s it.”
That’s how Ausmus wants it.
“Just business as usual,” he said. “It doesn’t change anything. Try to win a game and then prepare for the next one tomorrow.”
Norris, whose resurgence will be key for the Tigers next season, fought his way back from groin and quad injuries and a gnarly rehab stint at Toledo, where he struggled to command his pitches.
He was put back into the rotation after four relief stints and looked sharp for two innings before things slipped away.
“He profiles as a starter, but he has to perform as a starter,” Ausmus said. “He was all right tonight. He did some good things, threw some strikes. I think overall it was a step in the right direction for him.”
Twins left-handed hitting Max Kepler led off the third inning with a long home run to right field. He clobbered a 91-mph fastball from Norris.
The last out of the inning was another well-struck ball by a left-handed hitter.
Joe Mauer pounded a tailing liner toward the gap in left-center. JaCoby Jones sprinted 70 feet in 4.1 seconds (according to Statcast), dived on the warning track toward the wall, and made a spectacular catch.
“He’s a talented center fielder and that was a tremendous play — one of the better ones of the year, probably,” Ausmus said. “It was fun to watch.”
Norris didn’t get such defensive support in the fourth inning.
With two on and one out, Byron Buxton hit a line drive at third baseman Jeimer Candelario. Somehow, whether it knuckled and dipped on him or he just took his eye off it, the ball got past him for a two-run double.
The Tigers lost left-fielder Mikie Mahtook on the play, as well. He aggravated his left groin chasing the ball down in the left-field corner. It’s the same groin that cost him five games earlier this month.
He was scheduled to have an MRI to assess the severity of the injury.
“I don’t really know the timetable or anything,” Mahtook said. “I’m just going to come in tomorrow and let them reevaluate it.”
Norris, who will get one more start in the final series in Minnesota, talked about the mood of the team after Avila announced that Ausmus was not returning in 2018.
“Nobody really said anything,” he said. “Al said this was going to happen and we all understood it. Brad understood it. Al said the name of the game is winning and we haven’t been winning, and we need to make a change.
“We get it. But this is just the beginning for Brad. He’s going to be fine.”