Arlington, Texas — How do you read them? How do you assess where the Tigers are after they went 2-5 on a seven-day road trip — which ended with a walk-off, 5-4 loss to the Rangers courtesy of Nomar Mazara’s line-drive home run off Warwick Saupold in the bottom of the 10th inning?
Forget where they are; how do assess who they are?
Look at the lineup manager Ron Gardenhire presented Wednesday. It looked like it might have been from a spring training game in Port St. Lucie — you know, one of those long bus trips veteran players usually avoid.
Nick Castellanos (swollen knee) was out and not even available to pinch-hit. Victor Martinez, who had started every game on the trip, rested. Miguel Cabrera (hamstring) and Leonys Martin (hamstring) are on the disabled list. Second baseman Dixon Machado was given a day off.
Gardenhire’s lineup card Wednesday included recent Triple-A call-ups Mikie Mahtook, Pete Kozma and Grayson Greiner, as well as utility man Niko Goodrum.
“Not much we can do about it,” Gardenhire said. “We hope Nick will be back. Miggy, who knows? We’ve got people beat up, that’s why the day off Thursday is a really good day off. We will regroup and see where we are as we get into the weekend.”
They are six games under .500 but 13 of the 21 losses are by two runs or less.
“You look at what we’ve done with a depleted lineup,” said James McCann, who was the DH Wednesday and put the Tigers up 4-3 with an RBI single in the top of the sixth inning. “We’ve had guys out with illness. We’ve had guys out with injury. And we’re playing.
“You look at our losses and we could very easily flip-flop our win-loss record based on the games we’ve been in. We haven’t been blown out of too many, and that’s a testament to the fight in this clubhouse and the will and desire never to give up.”
But as the losses continue to pile up, there is a danger of that competitive spirit to erode. There is a thin line in baseball between spirited and dispirited.
“It’s frustrating,” McCann said. “It’s frustrating to lose. But at the same time, every day is a new day and that’s part of being a professional. You have to understand that you can’t let a win or a loss affect you the next day.”
Cabrera has missed 10 games and the Tigers have gone 4-6 in those games. Back-up catcher John Hicks has filled in at first base. Martin was the hottest hitter in the lineup until the injury. Now JaCoby Jones moves to center and Mahtook is in left, where he started the season.
Reliever Blaine Hardy, who pitched two clutch scoreless innings Wednesday, will get a spot start on Sunday because Jordan Zimmermann is on the DL. Johnny Barbato and Saupold got thrown into the high-leverage fire Wednesday, largely because Alex Wilson is on the DL.
And the bullpen had to work six innings because starter Francisco Liriano, who has allowed three runs or less and gone at least five full innings in his previous six starts, was flu-ridden and battled hard to just get into the fifth.
“We are beat up, there’s no doubt about that,” Gardenhire said. “But we had some opportunities to win this game. We had our chances. We left some men out there (10 left on base), but that means we had some hits, too.
“We’ve got to keep grinding.”
Mazara, before he ended the game with a home run (which he hit with an exit velocity of 117.1 mph), tied the game with two outs in the seventh inning. He got a belt-high fastball from lefty Daniel Stumpf and hit it 447 feet to right center.
“He killed that one,” Gardenhire said. “That ball was right there (pointing at the middle of his body). If he puts that ball down, they don’t hit the ball out of the ball park.”
But the Tigers had two golden opportunities to take the lead. They had runners at second and third with one out in the eighth inning — gift runners, a walk and an error. But lefty reliever Jake Diekman struck out pinch-hitter Martinez and Jones.
Gardenhire maybe would have gone to right-handed hitting Castellanos against Diekman but he couldn’t swing with any force off his swollen left knee.
“No chance,” Gardenhire said. “He tried to swing and it wouldn’t let him do anything.”
In the 10th, Goodrum led off with his second double of the game and was stranded — right-hander Keone Kela struck out Victor Reyes and Greiner before getting Jose Iglesias to ground out.
“We punched out quite a few times,” Gardenhire said. “Sometimes you need to put the ball in play. But when you are punching out a lot, sometimes that’s a tribute to the pitcher.”
The Tigers struck out 14, eight from the sixth inning on.
“The big thing is slowing the game down and not trying to do too much in those big situations,” McCann said. “Everybody is a victim of allowing situations to get too big from time to time, I don’t care who you are — a Hall-of-Famer or a rookie.
“The thing you have to remember is, the pitcher is the one in trouble, not the hitter.”
As for those call-ups: Kozma, back in the big leagues for the first time since last July when he played for the Rangers, blasted his fifth career home run in the third inning. The last home run he’d hit was at Comerica Park last May off of Matthew Boyd.
Mahtook, in his first game back, tripled in the first inning and lofted a sacrifice fly that tied the game at 3 in the fifth.
So, as has been the case, there are positives to be taken out of the negative bottom line.
For what it’s worth.