Same old story: Tigers can't produce 'big hit' once again, drop third straight

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — The questions are becoming redundant because the narrative isn't changing. The answers are getting more terse because the narrative isn't changing. The frustration is growing because the narrative isn't changing.

"I feel like I answer this question every single day," said catcher Tucker Barnhart. "It's tough. Other than that, I don't really know what to say. I think you come to the park each and every day and approach every game like it's a new day, which it clearly is. 

"You've got to forget about this and move forward. I apologize, it's a crappy answer, but it's just tough."

The White Sox, playing without three of the their top players (Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal and Liam Hendriks) beat the Tigers, 5-1, Tuesday night. It was the third straight loss for the Tigers and the 28th time they've scored two or fewer runs in a loss.

BOX SCORE: White Sox 5, Tigers 1

"Listen, we're well into June so the accumulation of our frustration is real," manager AJ Hinch said. "But that doesn't help us win tomorrow. I know you are all tired of hearing me say win today's game. But the reason is because this sport will drag you into misery if you keep looking at these numbers. 

"They're not good and they're not going to be good tomorrow regardless of how good a day we have. So we have to focus on the game at hand and put a lot of good games together to get out of this."

Tigers' Javier Báez heads back to the dugout after he is called out on strikes in the eighth inning.

The four-run hole Tuesday night might as well have been 40 — it seemed just as deep, especially with an old nemesis pitching for the White Sox.

Since he beat them in his big league debut back in 2019, White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease has dominated the Tigers. He came into Comerica Park Tuesday with a 9-0 career mark in his 10 starts against them with a skinny 2.08 ERA.

He didn’t dominate them this time. But he beat them. Again. For the 10th time.

But this time the Tigers made him work, made him throw 108 pitches in five innings. They had him on the ropes twice. But they couldn’t put him on the mat.

"Quite honestly, it's probably the most pressure we've put on him since I've been here," Hinch said. "But we didn't get the big hit." 

In both the first and fifth innings, Victor Reyes and Harold Castro reached with no outs. Reyes had three hits off Cease and Castro two. But the Tigers managed only one run, unearned, a gift from Cease.

"He has enough stuff that even when he's erratic he can escape," Hinch said. "When you don't get him when you had the opportunity, you're going to look back and say what if? He won the big moments."

The Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the first inning and had Javier Báez at the plate. Cease struck out Báez swinging and he almost ended the inning by picking off Harold Castro at second base. His quick pick-off move froze Castro, but Cease threw the ball into center field, allowing Reyes to score.

In the fifth inning, Reyes (6-for-12 since coming off the injured list) and Castro singled again, and the Tigers came up empty again. Willi Castro was called out on strikes on a pitch that Statcast showed was above the strike zone.

Cease, his pitch count climbing over 100, got a fielder’s choice ground out from Austin Meadows and a weak fly out to left from Báez.

The Tigers, who produce less runs and hit fewer home runs than any team in baseball, did zero damage against four different relievers after Cease departed. 

"This is a prolonged slump which sucks," Barnhart said. "But we've got a lot of season left. A lot of at-bats." 

Barnhart shouldn't be the one answering these questions every night. It should be the veteran players hitting in the middle of the lineup who aren't producing, like Báez, like Jonathan Schoop, like Meadows, like Robbie Grossman. 

But Barnhart, the veteran leader, stands up in front of his locker night after night and takes the questions.

"As a catcher, I'm probably going to get 400 at-bats in a season; I have 150 right now," he said. "That means I have 250 left. The everyday guys who play 155 to 160 games, they're going to get 600-650 at-bats and they are at 150 to 200 right now. 

"There is a lot of season left. There is no other way to put it other than we have to get ready to play tomorrow." 

Veteran Drew Hutchison, whom the Tigers designated for assignment in March before re-signing him, got the spot start Tuesday and pitched four solid innings. He had a four-batter lapse that cost him two runs.

With two outs in the second inning, the White Sox slapped four straight singles — Danny Mendick, A.J. Pollock, Andrew Vaughn (four singles on the night) and Luis Robert.

"Frustrating that all of that happened with two outs," Hutchison said. "I made some pitches that didn't work out but probably the one that bothered me the most was that first hit, by Mendick. I wasn't able to put an end to the inning there.

"But I thought I threw the ball pretty well after that and I was able to get through four innings."

Hutchison retired the last seven batters he faced.

But again, that pair of two-out runs in the second inning was enough to put the slumbering Tigers' offense deep behind the 8-ball.

"There is no excuse," Hinch said. "At the end of the day it's a competition between you and the pitcher. You have to be able to make an adjustment at this level to be able to make a difference."

Twitter: @cmccosky