Minneapolis — The Tigers are stuck in an ugly vortex right now, with an impotent offense that creates a fragile margin of error for a bullpen that is still searching for consistency.
“Same story,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after the Tigers’ 4-2 loss to the Twins Monday. “We didn’t score many runs. We scored early and then we get put on hold.
“We’ve got to keep playing. We’ve played in a lot of close games. We’ve got to find a way to make a big pitch, get a key out, get a big hit.”
It was the Tigers fourth loss in five games on this road trip. And it was another rough outing for Daniel Stumpf, the only left-handed arm in the bullpen.
“That’s the place he’s supposed to get outs,” Gardenhire said. “Stumpf is supposed to get those people out.”
The Twins broke a 2-2 tie with two gifted runs off Stumpf in the bottom of the eighth inning.
It started with a one-out walk. But the key at-bat was by Twins’ Eddie Rosario. Stumpf had the left-handed hitter in a 1-2 hole. He threw a 94-mph fastball at the bill of his helmet. It was six inches above the top of the strike zone.
“He misses that pitch nine out of 10 times,” Stumpf said. “I can’t worry about that. I made my pitch. That’s all I can do.”
This time, Rosario not only managed to get his bat to the ball, he was able to knock it into the gap in right-center for a double to put runners at second and third.
After an intentional walk, Stumpf walked another left-handed hitter, Logan Morrison, on four pitches, plating the go-ahead run.
“Not throwing the ball over the plate, that never works,” Gardenhire said. “We hadn’t pitched Stumpf. We tried to give him some time and tried to put him in the right situations. But he’s our only lefty out there. You don’t get situations.
“You have to come in and get lefties out. He’s got to get the job done; that’s the bottom line.”
Stumpf had produced three straight holds before Monday. In his four games before that, though, he’d been tagged for five runs in 1.1 innings.
“I feel like I threw good pitches, competitive pitches,” Stumpf said. “I’m still confident in my pitches. I’m not worried about the last games. I’m just trying to be out there every day like I used to.”
The Twins' fourth run scored on a mental mistake by center fielder Leonys Martin. Right-hander Warwick Saupold replaced Stumpf, and got Robbie Grossman to fly out to shallow center. Rosario tagged at third base, then held up. But when he saw Martin relax, he bolted for home, scoring easily as Martin's throw soared over catcher James McCann.
“That’s not a big-league play,” Gardenhire said.
It was an ugly inning and a dispiriting loss.
“I was just trying to keep our team in the game,” said Tigers starter Blaine Hardy, who cruised through four innings before getting touched for two in the fifth. “I had a little bit of a rough fifth inning, but the fact that it was still 2-2, I felt confident we could pull it out.
“It didn’t end up being that way.”
Hardy, in his second start, allowed just three hits before the fifth. And he was one out away from getting through the fifth with the 2-0 lead intact.
With two outs and a runner on first, Hardy threw a 2-2 curve ball to Brian Dozier that was way off the outside corner. Dozier, his back side bucked toward the Tigers’ dugout, managed to throw his hands and get the bat on the ball, dropping it in short right field for a double.
Left-handed hitting Max Kepler then tied the game, hitting the first pitch he saw off the wall in right — a two-run double.
“The only pitch I was upset about was the one to Kepler,” Hardy said. “Dozier hit a pitch that was two feet off the plate. Hats off to him.”
The inning ended on an overturned call at the plate. Eduardo Escobar singled to left. JaCoby Jones made a strong throw to the plate, but Kepler was initially called safe.
The Tigers challenged, and after a 2:18 review, the call was overturned — out at the plate. Game tied at 2.
“I was focused on where the tag was,” said Hardy, who threw warm-up pitches while the play was under review. He figured the call would stand. “I wasn’t even looking where his feet were. But the reason it got overturned, his foot ended up not touching the plate.”
The Tigers 2-0 lead was built on two swings by Nick Castellanos.
He sat on the on-deck circle in the first inning and watched Twins starter Jose Berrios strike out Martin on three pitches — all mid-90s fastballs.
So, he stepped in and swatted the first pitch he saw — another mid-90s fastball — some 424 feet onto the berm in dead center field. It was his fifth home run of the season.
Then in the third inning, with two outs and a runner at third, he again swung at the first pitch he saw from Berrios. This one was a slider, and he slapped it up the middle. Two pitches, two hits, two RBIs.
But as has been the way on this trip, the offense went cold fast. Berrios — he allowed just three hits through eight innings — put down 15 straight Tigers after Castellanos’ RBI single. The streak was broken when he walked Dixon Machado with two outs in the top of the eighth.
On Sunday, the Tigers didn’t score after the first inning — 10 straight scoreless innings. In the games Friday and Saturday, they went scoreless after the fifth inning.
None after the third on Monday.
“If we could score some runs, it would take a lot of the pressure off the bullpen late in the game,” Gardenhire said.
Former Tiger Fernando Rodney closed it out, though the final two outs were long blasts to the track and to the wall in left field by Victor Martinez and John Hicks.