Detroit — You know the cliché, you can never have enough pitching?
It’s not a cliché to the Tigers, it’s a painful reality.
As you may have heard, four-fifths of the Tigers original starting rotation is on the injured list. Two of the top starters at Triple-A Toledo are also on the injured list. The Tigers had a starter finish six innings once in the last seven games.
“There’s a lot of unknown variables, lots of conversation going on as we try to right this ship,” manager Ron Gardenhire said before the Houston Astros put an 11-4 hurt on the Tigers Tuesday. “We’re trying to get it right, but no one can plan for four starters going down. It’s going to be some ad-libbing tonight and tomorrow.”
It got to the point where there was no available starting pitcher for the series finale Wednesday and Gardenhire was contemplating using a convoy of relievers against former Tigers ace Justin Verlander — a not-too-subtle symbol of how things have changed around here.
Except he couldn’t fully commit to that plan, because there was a good chance the game Tuesday would turn into a bullpen game, as well. Which it did.
“Not a lot of options,” Gardenhire said. “We’re just going game by game right now. With Carp, we need him to pitch. And if it doesn’t work out, it’s just going to add to it. All we can do is wait to see what happens, then we will know what we will have to use tomorrow.”
Here’s what happened:
Starter Ryan Carpenter threw a lot of pitches early, got hit hard and lasted four innings. He gave up home runs to Carlos Correa (a 437-foot, three-run bomb into the shrubbery beyond the center-field wall) and a solo shot to Aledmys Diaz.
He gave up nine hits, three walks and eight runs (seven earned). The Tigers had to use four relievers to get through the game.
So what happens Wednesday against Verlander?
"We've optioned Carpenter back to Toledo," Gardenhire said. "And we are bringing back Gregory Soto (from Double-A Erie). He'll start tomorrow."
It will be a redo of what the Tigers did in the second game of the doubleheader in Minnesota Saturday. Soto and lefty Nick Ramirez will tag-team the start. Both worked four innings against the Twins.
"They are both going to be on three-days rest, so we will try not to put too much work on them," Gardenhire said. "Whatever Soto can give us, we will take. We just have to get through the ballgame.
"But they have a really good team over there (Astros), as we've seen. We're putting a lot of pressure on some kids."
The Tigers had to use Buck Farmer for two innings, then Daniel Stumpf, Blaine Hardy and Victor Alcantara for one each. After Ramirez tomorrow, the Tigers will have Zac Reininger, Reed Garrett, Joe Jimenez and Shane Greene available, as well.
"At the end of the day, we just got our (butts) kicked," Nick Castellanos said afterward. "Any way you look at it, we could have done everything better. We could have pitched better, we could've hit better and we could've played defense better.
"We should have done everything better, but we didn't."
Castellanos was asked if the team felt handicapped going into these games with all the uncertainty with the rotation and pitching staff.
"No, it is what it is," he said. "It's our job to strap it on and give the best effort to do what we can to score more runs than the other team. The past two nights we've done a very poor job of doing that."
The Astros scored in seven of the nine innings.
George Springer blasted an inside-the-park home run in the fifth. He hit the ball off the concrete base of the wall in right-center field and it took a wicked carom past JaCoby Jones. According to Statcast, Springer raced around the bases in 15.34 seconds.
It was the first inside-the-parker hit at Comerica since last April when the Yankees’ Aaron Hicks hit one.
"They're very good and we've got to be like that if that's the goal, right," Castellanos said. "It just shows we've got a long ways to go. And it starts tomorrow."
There was one positive that came out of this mess Tuesday. Ronny Rodriguez continues to hit the baseball with authority. He doubled, hit his sixth home run of the season (in just 83 plate appearances), and knocked in three runs.
"You mean El Felino?" Castellanos said, referring to the name Rodriguez uses in his second career as a rapper. "El Felino is a baller."
Rodriguez's home run traveled 435 feet and cleared the visitors’ bullpen in left-center. Four of his six home runs have traveled 400 feet or farther.
He’s now hit safely in 14 of 21 games since being called up from Toledo, and his average is a robust .312.
The bigger issue going forward for the Tigers is the gaping hole at the back end of the rotation. Even if general manager Al Avila decided to sign a veteran free agent like James Shields, it’s likely he would need to make at least two or three starts in the minor leagues before he was ready.
Both Tyson Ross and Jordan Zimmermann could conceivably be out another month or longer. Kyle Funkhouser, who would be the next man up from Toledo, is still working his way back from a shoulder impingement.
The Tigers have asked Drew VerHagen to stretch out and start at Toledo. He may also be an option down the line.
But in the short-term, it's not a comfortable situation.
“Welcome to my world,” Gardenhire said.