'We didn't play well': Tigers hit road after rough 2-4 homestand, loss to Rockies
Detroit — Don't call it a milestone hangover. Just don't.
"No, we didn't play well," manager AJ Hinch said after the Tigers were beaten by the Colorado Rockies 6-2 in the rubber match of the three-game set Sunday, losing two straight after celebrating Miguel Cabrera's 3,000th hit. "It's nothing about energy. There's no excuse, no let down. That's a Major League team across the way and we need to show better to win a series.
"I'm not going to take any excuses out of this. A lull on the weekend? No. We had a chance to win a series and didn't play well enough."
The Tigers, like a lot of teams around baseball, have been treading water for most of this first month of the season.
Injuries in spring training to three key bullpen arms (Jose Cisnero, Kyle Funkhouser and Andrew Chafin) and their projected starting center fielder (Riley Greene) was the first blow. Then two-fifths of their starting rotation — Casey Mize and Matt Manning — went down. Starting shortstop Javy Baez just returned Sunday after missing nine games.
They’ve managed to hover around the .500 mark through the first 13 games, but after these last two losses, and with an arduous stretch of games coming up, the water level seems to be rising.
"It's baseball," catcher Tucker Barnhart said. "I thought we were in a position last night to win the second game of the doubleheader and we were in position today with guys on base to make it interesting there late, it just didn't happen.
"It's still really early. We've only played 15 games. There's a helluva long way to go. Nobody is panicking."
The Tigers (6-9) leave Tuesday for a six-game trip to Minnesota and Los Angeles (Dodgers). Then, after a two-game home series with Pittsburgh, they go to Houston for four.
“Injuries are going to happen,” Hinch said Saturday night. “We do have a deeper roster today than we had at this point last year. We built the team up to be able to withstand a few of these injuries. You never want to have any of your best guys out but it creates opportunity for others.
“I like the way our team has responded. We haven’t hung our heads, pouted or complained. Just go out and try to win tonight’s game.”
The Tigers had a hard time getting the third out on Sunday. All six of the Rockies runs, five of them against lefty starter Tyler Alexander, were scored with two outs.
"It's tough," Barnhart said. "It is deflating when you get two outs in an inning and think it's almost over and then you can't get that third out before runs score. It's tough."
Alexander, who lasted just one inning in his previous start, gave up a run-scoring two-out infield single to former Tiger C.J. Cron in the first inning, a two-out, two-run homer to Randal Grichuk in the third and a two-out, two-run single to Charlie Blackmon in the fourth.
"They're good hitters," said Alexander, who lasted just 3.2 innings. "They took a lot of my good pitches and they fouled off a lot of my good pitches and they crushed my bad pitches. That's what good hitters do. They wait for me to make a mistake and I made a good amount of them today."
Grichuk and left-handed hitting Blackmon did most of the damage for the Rockies Blackmon ended up with four hits and Grichuk finished a triple shy of the cycle. Ryan McMahon ripped a two-out RBI single off reliever Rony Garcia in the fifth.
"They put up good at-bats with two strikes," Hinch said. "They had six or seven two-strike hits. They don't quit on an inning. Those are critical elements to an offense. Hats off to them for the way they swung the bat."
After erupting for 13 runs and 20 hits in Game 1 Saturday, the Tigers’ bats stayed quiet. Rockies right-hander Chad Kuhl and his dynamic slider stymied them for six innings. The Tigers swung at 21 of them and missed 14 times.
He came in with a whiff rate on his slider of 62% in his first two starts. He became the first starter in Colorado franchise history to allow two runs or fewer in the first three starts of his Rockies career.
"We didn't really pick up any of his pitches," Hinch said. "He does a good job of mixing his pitches and his slider looked like it was really tough on righties. He quieted us pretty effectively."
The only time Kuhl got nicked Sunday was in the third. Austin Meadows lined a two-out single to right scoring Barnhart, who had led off with a double.
Barnhart got into second base safely, sliding head (more like chest) first to the left of the bag and using a swim move to elude the tag of shortstop Jose Iglesias.
"I think it's because I don't run fast enough to actually slide," Barnhart said, laughing. "I kind of stick and roll. Kind of a tuck-and-roll kind of thing. Got around it. He wasn't expecting it."
The Tigers put the first two batters on against Kuhl in the sixth but came up empty. With one out, Jeimer Candelario hit a popup behind third base that fell between the third baseman, shortstop and left fielder.
Iglesias, the former Tiger, pounced on the ball and made a quick, strong flip-throw to third base, where Kuhl was alertly covering to get the force on Robbie Grossman, who had to hold up between second and third.
"Two-out base hits that put runs on the board are why we play," Hinch said. "We're trying to score and they're trying to score. They did a lot of good things with two-outs and two strikes. We did not. There's your difference."