'Just a different way to lose': The misery continues for free-falling Tigers
Detroit — The Tigers battled out of a three-run hole Thursday. Rookie starter Beau Brieske survived a three-run, 35-pitch first inning and ended up with a six-inning, quality start.
Good things were happening and the Tigers were set up for a much-needed win at Comerica Park, but in the end it was just more frustration.
"Just a different way to lose," manager AJ Hinch said after the Oakland Athletics beat the Tigers 5-3 in the finale of the five-game series.
The Athletics, who came in riding a nine-game losing streak, won four of the five games. The Tigers, 3-16 over the last 19, are now an unfathomable 9-23. One loss less than their horrific start in 2021.
"I don't care about last year," Hinch said. "I don't care about the comparing. I get it. Everybody wants an analysis. I've got to figure out how to beat the Orioles tomorrow. We're tired of losing."
The winning blow was struck in the top of the eighth inning off reliever Michael Fulmer. With two outs and a runner on, Oakland first baseman Seth Brown blasted a two-run home run on a 3-2 count off a four-seam fastball to break the 3-3 tie.
Fulmer, despite the velocity on his fastball and sinker being down by 2 mph, dispatched the first two hitters in the eighth, then walked Sheldon Neuse and fell behind Brown 3-1.
Fulmer threw a 92-mph sinker to make the count full. Then he and catcher Tucker Barnhart seemed to disagree on what pitch to throw next.
"I shook Tucker off on a few and he was probably right on some of those pitch calls," Fulmer said. "I felt like I wanted to throw a strike and a four-seamer, if I located it down and away, would've been the right pitch. Obviously, I should have trusted Tuck."
Barnhart wanted Fulmer to throw either the slider or another sinker. Fulmer insisted on the four-seam and left it up where Brown could get the barrel on it.
"I know the velo wasn't there today," Fulmer said. "It was just one of those days where you don't have your best stuff. But you have to learn to figure it out. I just didn't today."
Fulmer started the season with 10 straight scoreless outings, but he's faltered in two of the last three.
"Just back to the drawing board," he said. "You think you've got some stuff figured out and — this is a humbling game."
Fulmer admitted that he might have carried the weight of the Tigers' skid on his shoulders in that eighth inning.
"It's unwarranted pressure," he said. "You don't need to add pressure on yourself but sometimes in games like that and the way the team's been going, you want to put up a zero and I didn't do that today.
"That pressure wasn't what I needed to put on myself, honestly. I tired to be a little too perfect."
For a minute there, it looked like the worm might've turned.
The Tigers scored twice off Oakland starter James Kaprielian in the fifth. A bloop single by Willi Castro started it. It was his second hit of the game and seventh hit in his series.
Spencer Torkelson, mired in a 4-for-45 skid, drew his second walk of the game. Barnhart then lined a double to the gap in right-center to score Castro. Robbie Grossman’s ground out scored Torkelson.
Jeimer Candelario greeted right-handed reliever Domingo Acevedo with a triple to open the sixth inning. He scored on a double by Miguel Cabrera and the game was tied.
"I felt good about the game when we battled back," Hinch said. "We needed a spark and we got it with Miggy's double. But after Miggy's hit we had one positive at-bat in the last 12 plate appearances."
For Brieske, it was the continuation of an odd pattern.
Give up a hit to the first batter of the game — check. Lead-off single by Tony Kemp on his first pitch.
Get into early trouble. His ERA over the first three innings was 6.75 — check. He gave up three runs on three hits in a 35-pitch first inning, an inning exacerbated by his own error, allowing a slow-rolling comebacker to get by him.
Keep grinding and keep the game close — check.
It’s been the same script for all four of his big-league starts, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
"I'm super proud of Beau," Barnhart said. "I thought he pitched his (butt) off. I told him after the outing that he pitched like an adult. Just super impressive. He's faced adversity in most of his starts so far and found a way to give a chance to win.
"It says a lot about a young guy when he can take it on the chin early and hold down the fort until the sixth inning."
From the second inning through the sixth, Brieske kept the Athletics off the board, allowing just one single and a pair of walks and ended up with a quality start.
Brieske’s ERA in innings 4-6 — 0.00.
Still, it was another subdued clubhouse afterward.
"I just don't think we've been playing our best baseball," Fulmer said. "There's a lot going forward we can fix, we can change. But nobody is counting this team out in this clubhouse. It's going to be a grind every day but we just have to take it one game at a time and get back to some normalcy, back to that winning culture again.
"We've got the guys in here to do it."