'You have to take it personal': Tigers' bats stay cold in series-opening loss to Royals
Detroit — It’s something Brad Ausmus said often during his managerial tenure with the Tigers. And it’s as true now as it was then.
When you aren’t hitting, when you aren’t putting runners on base, there’s no energy, no verve — it looks like your compete level is low.
AJ Hinch didn’t know much about that during five winning seasons in Houston, but he can relate now.
The Tigers, who were beaten by the American League Central-leading Kansas City Royals 6-2 Friday night, are in one of those ruts.
"You have to take it personal and find a way to compete," Hinch said. "You have a decision to make as a Major League player whether or not to take it personal when you are struggling. "If you are out there pressing, it means you aren't spending energy to compete."
It was their seventh loss in the last eight – and it’s been the same tired script.
Start with a stagnant offense. Coming into play Friday, the Tigers have produced less than two runs a game on average over the last seven. They've struck out 77 times in those games, 13 times Friday, nine against Royals lefty starter Mike Minor.
"Minor has been in the league a long time and he can exploit weaknesses," Hinch said. "And right now we've got some chase going on, we've got some swing-and-miss on pitches up and away and out over the plate.
"But it's a competition between their pitchers and our hitters and right now their pitchers are winning. Half of our outs are via the strikeout."
That lack of offense has negated what, until Friday, had been solid pitching. In fact, since April 11, the Tigers rotation was second-stingiest in the American League since April 11.
Given the way things have been going, though, rookie right-hander Casey Mize had to feel just about defeated after giving up two solo home runs through four innings.
"No, I just try to focus on what my job is," Mize said. "Just taking care of the task at hand, which is putting zeros on the board and getting the guys back into the dugout. I didn't do a good enough job with that tonight."
It ended up being a forgettable start for Mize. He gave up the solo home runs to Andrew Benintendi (a center-cut fastball on a 1-2 count) and Ryan O’Hearn (hanging splitter), and then was KO’d in a 31-pitch, four-run fifth, capped by a two-run double by Jorge Soler (2-0 slider).
"It's a learning lesson on execution, especially on his secondary pitches," Hinch said. "They're a good team and they find a way to make contact and when you make a mistake they make you pay for it.
"It's another reminder for Casey that execution is critical."
Mize's pitch-mix was confusing. He talked on Thursday about how his four-seam fastball had become a better pitch for him than his two-seam sinker, as it certainly had. But against the Royals, he threw 25 sinkers and just 14 four-seamers.
Without establishing much with either fastball, his secondary pitches didn't have the same impact.
"I just didn't throw enough strikes," Mize said. "I just didn't throw enough strikes to put myself in a good position to win at-bats."
The result: six runs, seven hits, three walks and just one strikeout.
The Tigers hitters, meanwhile, were being lassoed by Minor. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning when Jeimer Candelario, who had been in a 3-for-26 funk, doubled. One batter later, Robbie Grossman blasted a two-run home run into the seats in left.
End of the night for the Tigers’ offense. Minor struck out nine in 5.2 innings.
There were a couple of pockets of light for the Tigers on this otherwise dark night. Lefty Tyler Alexander, who hadn’t pitched since April 15 and had thrown just 6.1 innings total, worked 2.1 hitless innings, yielding only a walk.
Also, rookie Zack Short, in his second start, produced his first big-league knock — a single in the sixth.
"It's tough to really think about that so much when we're on such a tough stretch right now," Short said. "You want to enjoy it and I'm glad my family saw it, but it's tough to really enjoy. The guys are grinding every at-bat and things just aren't going our way right now."