Minneapolis — Ron Gardenhire’s waking nightmare happened in the top of the fifth inning Saturday.
Shortstop Jordy Mercer lined a double off the wall in left field, but as he rounded first, something tightened in his right leg and he hobbled into second base. The Tigers later announced he strained his right quadricep.
Already, the Tigers were down two players — Nick Castellanos (toe) and Niko Goodrum (ill) — so when Gordon Beckham replaced Mercer, Gardenhire’s bench was devoid of healthy reserves.
"It stinks," Mercer said after the Tigers were beaten by the Twins, 4-3. "Not being out there with your teammates, it's not fun. I hope we can get this thing wrapped up and it shouldn't be too long. We'll see."
Mercer was placed on the 10-day injured list after the game. Gardenhire said the Tigers will make a corresponding move to replace him before the game Sunday.
They have an open spot on the 40-man roster (with Mikie Mahtook being out-righted to Triple-A Toledo). So veteran shortstops Pete Kozma, Ronny Rodriguez and Harold Castro could be options.
Prospect Willi Castro, who is on the 40-man roster, is another option.
"We're trying to get a player here," Gardenhire said. "But (Toledo) is playing in Virginia, so we'll see."
Mercer had two hits before leaving the game, and extended his hitting streak to six games.
"I've been nicked up quite a bit, but nothing like this," he said. "So, it's new to me, too. It's in a different place for me. Honestly, it felt like a spasm, like a spasm that just wouldn't go away.
"I didn't feel a pop or hear a pop, that's the good news. We'll just take it day by day."
It was 37 degrees at the start of the game and it got colder. Mercer didn't want to blame the injury on the cold, but he said it might've been a factor.
"I'm so sick of the cold weather," he said. "You don't want to say that, because it's part of the game. But, it was cold — I'll just leave it at that."
The Tigers got through the game with no other substitute players needed — though pitchers Buck Farmer and Daniel Norris were at the ready, and when Miguel Cabrera singled to lead off the top of the eighth, Gardenhire thought he might use Goodrum.
"Goody was warming up in case Cabrera got to second base," Gardenhire said. "Pinch-running was the only situation I would even take a chance on using him. He feels terrible.
"I don't want to put him in some situation where he ends up with pneumonia. It's just a bad situation for him."
As it turned out, Cabrera never advanced beyond first base — which was the subtext of this loss. The Tigers banged out 10 hits, but were 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position. They rank dead last in Major League Baseball in that category, just 21-for-129 (.162).
"We had our chances," Gardenhire said. "We had some good at-bats and some not so good at-bats. Unfortunately, we couldn't find a way to get one more big hit to get us that one run to tie it.
"It's frustrating for the guys. Maybe they are trying too hard, I don't know. But we're just not coming up with enough of those big hits. This probably should have been our ballgame. We had enough people left out there in scoring position."
Christin Stewart, whose 407-foot home run into the upper tier in right-center field cut the deficit to 4-3 in the sixth, agreed that some hitters might be pressing with runners in scoring position.
"Today we had a ton of hits, but the big thing in baseball is getting timely hits," he said. "Those are the hits we need to start getting. We are always trying to score those runs, obviously.
"But the way I try to look at it is, the pressure is on the pitcher in those situations, not the hitters. We just have to find a way to step back and slow everything down."
Turns out, it was one bad inning that doomed them. Starter Tyson Ross got the first six hitters out, then the wheels came off in the bottom half of the third.
Staked to a 2-0 lead, Ross needed 34 pitches to get through the inning. He ended up walking three and giving up three RBI singles — Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario (two-run hit).
"It was cold for everyone," said Ross, not accepting any excuses. "I just lost my release point. I put myself in a poor position with those walks."
He did say the Tigers length at-bat in the top of the inning was a factor.
"I just got a little too cool," he said. "I need to figure out a way to stay active and stay locked in during a long inning like that."
Still, Ross found a way to fight through six innings, allowing only those four runs on five hits and four walks. And the bullpen, despite walking three more hitters, didn't allow a run in the seventh or eighth.
The Tigers best chance to tie the game came in the seventh. JaCoby Jones singled, stole second and went to third on a throwing error. But with one out, Josh Harrison, first-pitch swinging, grounded out to third.
Jeimer Candelario, whose single in the third inning snapped an 0-for-21 drought, struck out to end the threat.