'We expect more': A's wallop Tigers, losing skid reaches four

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — The thing about small crowds — and Comerica Park's seen a gaggle of them already this season, with many more to come — is you can hear fans' conversations.

The Tigers sure heard them Thursday.

"We know what we're doing here, we're trying to do a rebuild here and ad-lib and get these guys through until we get all these young prospects up," manager Ron Gardenhire said after after the Tigers' fourth straight loss, a 17-3 embarrassment to the Oakland A's. "But still, there's a lot of pride out here in this clubhouse and no one wants to play like that.

"Our fans, you know what, they're right to let us have it. Let me have it."

Tigers pitcher Spencer Turnbull and catcher Grayson Greiner wait for pitching coach Rick Anderson to make his way to the mound in the third inning Thursday at Comerica Park.

The Tigers, who most pegged to lose at least 90 games and perhaps more than 100, were a cute little story in March and April, when they didn't get their teeth completely knocked in.

But the last four games, all at home, have sent them crashing, and hard, back to reality — and it turns out that, yes, reality bites.

In the four losses, three to the Astros and this one to the A's, the Tigers have been totally outclassed, not to mention outscored, 41-9. The A's, for their part, have beaten the Tigers 13 consecutive games, a streak that dates to May 2017. It's the longest losing streak by one team to another since, coincidentally, the last Tigers' rebuild, when the Tigers of 2002 and 2003 lost 14 in a row to the Los Angeles Angels.

BOX SCORE: A's 17, Tigers 3

In the clubhouse afterward, you could've heard a pin drop; and if a pin did drop, odds are it was by one of the Tigers' infielders.

"It's frustrating, man," Josh Harrison said. "Nobody wants to be on the losing end the way we have the last couple games, man.

"This game's a humbling game."

The Tigers now are 18-24, six games under .500. At one point early in the season, they were actually four games over .500. It's true. We looked it up.

Seems like many moons ago, especially after all those moon shots the A's hit Thursday — five in all, for the cycle of home runs: one grand slam, one three-run homer, two two run-homers and a solo shot, though the last of the homers did come off pitcher Brandon Dixon, who you might know is actually not a pitcher.

All told, he A's hit 1,970 feet worth of homers.

The Tigers' ERA is now 6.83 for May, after it was 3.86 in March and April.

Spencer Turnbull (2-3) became the fourth consecutive Tigers starter to not get past four innings, leading to more bullpening, and bullpening in Detroit typically hasn't been a recipe for a good time.

That's why Dixon pitched the ninth, and why the Tigers essentially gave up on Rule 5 pick Reed Garrett, who was DFA'd after the game. They need reinforcements, and now.

"We just have to be better all the way around," said Gardenhire, as animated afterward as you'll usually see him — a guy who hates to lose even when the outside expectations are to lose. "This is a major-league clubhouse with a bunch of major-league guys, and they're here to get it done and I'm here to manage them and get it done.

"And today was a bad day for us."

That's an understatement.

The Tigers did basically nothing well — especially on defense, which really opened them up to the rout in the third inning, when two botched double plays forced Turnbull to throw a lot more pitches. And one of those pitches just so happened to end up in the seats in right field, a grand slam by Jurickson Profar.

Going into the third, it was 0-0. After the top of the third, it was 6-0, and only one of those runs was earned.

The Tigers only were credited with one error on the day, though that's deceiving. In the third, shortstop Ronny Rodriguez was slow to get the ball out of his glove in butchering what should've been an easy double play. Two batters later, Niko Goodrum grabbed a grounder at first and threw wildly to Rodriguez, another double play that wasn't to be.

Three batters after that, Jurickson Profer launched the slam.

At least the Tigers' defense couldn't botch that one.

To Turnbull's credit, he nobly took the blame, saying, "My teammates have been playing great defense behind me all year. I've gotta be able to pick them up. ... I've gotta find a way to get out of that."

Gardenhire agreed that Turnbull needs to buckle down there, but Gardenhire was far more steamed about the defense — which has been brutal lately.

"More than anything, catch the ball, don't give extra outs," Gardenhire said. "(Then) those innings won't happen.

"He didn't have his best stuff today, but we sure didn't help him defensively."

Turnbull needed 33 pitches to get through the third, assuring him of a short outing.

The A's then poured it on against relievers Blaine Hardy, Reed Garrett and Victor Alcantara, who combined to give up nine runs on 10 hits in four innings.

No. 9 hitter Josh Phegley, who was 4-for-5 and a triple shy of the cycle, homered off Hardy in the sixth, before Matt Olson followed suit later in the inning. Marcus Semien made it four bombs in the seventh, off Garrett. Then, for good measure, Mark Canha hit a 419-foot missile to left in the ninth off Dixon — just the second time in his lengthy managerial career Gardenhire has pitched a position player.

"Letting a fan get a souvenir," Gardenhire said, "was really nice."

That ruined Dixon's previous career ERA of 0.00. He pitched twice for the Cincinnati Reds in 2018. Dixon, clocking low 60s to 70s, began with a strikeout of Semien.

A two-run double by Robbie Grossman was the big hit against Alcantara in the eighth.

Detroit's offense, meanwhile, continues to look lost. The Tigers had one scoring threat the first eight innings, when Rodriguez hit a one-out triple in the second — 17 of his 25 hits this season are for extra bases — but he was quickly removed from the bases, out at home after an ill-advised break for it on Harrison's grounder to a drawn-in infield.

Dawel Lugo, just up from Toledo to play third base, hit a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth to keep the Tigers from being shut out again.

Just about the only cheers at Comerica Park before that Thursday belonged to A's starter Chris Bassitt (2-1), the Toledo-area native who was brilliant in his eight innings, allowing just four hits, including three harmless singles — much to the delight of his rowdy cheering section of family and friends located right behind home plate.

Bassitt walked two and struck out seven in an outing that tied the longest of his career.

"A lot of people texted me, calling me, all that stuff," said Bassitt, off to a nice start this season, having allowed 21 hits in 32 2/3 innings. "It’s basically my home away from home kind of thing just because we’re so close to home here, and thankfully it’s a pretty dang good ballpark to pitch in.

"Outside of Oakland, this is a very nice ballpark to pitch in because it’s so big."

So big, and these days, so empty.

That makes it a lot easier to hear the fans.

And they have a lot to say — almost none of it fit for print.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984