Detroit — This is the time in a big-league season when weather turns comfortable and rosters become expandable.
It's September. And the games, for non-playoff teams like a certain bunch from Detroit, become as much dress rehearsals for next February's spring camp as regular-season closeouts.
The Tigers flashed lots of their showroom-fresh, 2018-model flesh at different positions Tuesday night at Comerica Park, to varying degrees of success, as they played their usual pesky game that didn't stop them from losing to the Astros, 5-4.
"Sure, you make mistakes, but guys are trying, and we'll be better in the end when guys learn their positions," said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire. "But they compete. They get after it."
Among the musical-chairs arrangement chosen Tuesday by Gardenhire was starting Niko Goodrum at shortstop and Ronny Rodriguez at first, which wasn't the first such time at either spot for either player.
But it can still be a bit jagged, defensively, as the Tigers experiment with their new lineups, some of which have been necessitated by the loss of Jose Iglesias to abdominal-muscle issues.
Rodriguez missed a pick-off attempt by starter Jordan Zimmermann in the second, which led to an error that preceded Tony Kemp's two-out homer in the second — the first of three homers that damaged Zimmermann's night. Rodriguez later missed another of Zimmermann's tosses that instead caromed off Kemp at first after he had reached first base.
The latter didn't allow Kemp to advance, and wasn't an error, but then neither was it an error in the first when this reconstituted Tigers infield missed a shift-assignment at second that led to a single out rather than a double play.
Goodrum had a bad throw in the fourth that went for another error and factored seriously as it came one batter ahead of Tyler White's two-run homer.
Ah, those homers. Three of them Tuesday against Zimmermann, who lasted five innings and 97 pitches, with six hits, a walk, three strikeouts, and four of five runs against him earned.
"Wasn't his best performance," Gardenhire said of a pitcher who is now 7-7 for the year, with a 4.17 ERA. "Got a couple of balls up. They (the Astros) jump on you."
Zimmermann didn't disagree.
"Didn't have very good command early," said Zimmermann, whose first 30 pitches were an upside-down mix of 14 strikes and 16 balls. "As the game settled in, I started locating better, but they pretty much punched me in the mouth the first two innings."
The Tigers did all their punching in the fourth: double by Goodrum, walk to Rodriguez, bad-hop single by Dawel Lugo, and a searing, three-run homer by JaCoby Jones against the concrete wall in left.
Four of their seven hits came in that fourth inning. They got two more the rest of the way against an Astros bullpen that, as Gardenhire mentioned, tends to be murder, and was again Tuesday after Houston starter Framber Valdez lasted only four innings.
"We just couldn't come up with one more hit," Gardenhire said.
Youth has its effects there. The Tigers continue to audition players ahead of 2019, and not for the worse.
Christin Stewart has qualified as a two-night plus after he was ordered to Detroit from Triple-A Toledo following the Mud Hens' playoff run.
He played left field Tuesday and will be playing left for most of the remaining games. He walked his first two times up Tuesday, and in his fourth at-bat got ahead 2-0 before rifling a single up the middle.
Also helping was another plebe who isn't new to the Tigers, but who still very much is in the evaluative phase: Jones, the stallion of an outfielder, who ripped his line-drive homer to left in the fourth, his second homer in his last four games, third in his past 12, and 11th on the season.
Jones also made a sweet ninth-inning play when he galloped into the right-center gap to grab Yuli Gurriel's base hit, which Gurriel thought should be a double. Jones instead gloved the ball speeding to his right, whirled in a 360-degree pirouette, and nailed Gurriel at the second-base bag.
Jones is batting only .206, which will need to climb next season if he expects regular shifts.
"When he stays in the strike zone, he's real good," Gardenhire said. "He's had a nice swing-plane going.
"He's got a lot of ability. He just has to harness it."
The Tigers bullpen joined with the Astros relievers to pitch shutout baseball. Buck Farmer, Louis Coleman, Daniel Stumpf, Victor Alcantara, Alex Wilson — the Astros bashers can make a hash of any team's late-inning arms, but Tigers relievers held them to a single hit over the final frames.
It was Tuesday's starters who had their moments.
In a game that started at 6:40 p.m. — school kids and sleep, you know — Zimmermann's first pitch of the night was tattooed by Jose Altuve on a long, high arc well up the left-field seats.
Zimmermann was later responsible for Kemp's and White's bombs, which was good enough for the the highfalutin Astros.
"We did some things tonight," Gardenhire said. "It was a fun game to watch.
"Unfortunately, we didn't win."