Second straight thumping by Twins sends Tigers to new depths, 20 games under .500
Detroit — Another starting pitcher injured early in the game. Another long, taxing day on a wearying bullpen. Another futile uphill climb. Another loss.
Positive vibes and silver linings were hard to find Sunday after the Tigers were thumped 9-1 by the Central Division-leading Twins, their seventh loss in eight games, dropping them to a season-worst 20 games under .500 (38-58).
"We play to win games and we're not doing it enough," manager AJ Hinch said. "We're beat up as a team physically and we're not winning games. Put that combo together and it's pretty miserable."
In a perfect world, right-hander Rony Garcia wouldn’t have been thrown into the fire Sunday without at least one rehab outing. But perfect left the Tigers' world back in April.
Garcia had been on the injured list since July 3 with shoulder soreness and hadn’t pitched since June 29. He was twice scheduled to make a rehab start with Triple-A Toledo. One, last Sunday, was rained out. He ended up throwing three innings worth of bullpens before the All-Star break.
The second one was supposed to happen Saturday night, but when rookie Beau Brieske (arm fatigue) was placed on the injured list earlier in the week, it created a void in the rotation. With nobody available on the 40-man roster to make a spot start, the Tigers decided to bypass the rehab outing and roll the dice with Garcia.
It came up snake eyes.
"We're in a tough spot," Hinch said. "We're not in a good place as a team in general, but our pitching and where the roster is, we're in a really tough spot. We were hoping to get three or four innings from Garcia and kind of build him up here just as you would on a rehab assignment."
Not only was Garcia rusty, as his 34-pitch, three-run first inning showed, but in the third inning he developed soreness in his right biceps. The Tigers initially reported the injury as shoulder soreness, but Hinch corrected that after the game.
"To be clear, it's a separate issue," he said. "It's a new injury, not the same as what he had before. This is a bicep issue, which he reported on the last two pitches of his outing."
Garcia was removed from the game with two outs in the third inning. The Tigers put starter Michael Pineda (triceps) on the injured list before the game. He lasted only three innings Saturday night.
"He's going to be shut down for a bit," Hinch said of Garcia. "I can't imagine he'll be doing much throwing until the inflammation is out."
And, just to complete the picture, shortstop Javier Báez left the game after five innings with a bruise on the upper part of his left arm. He was hit by pitch from Twins starter Sonny Gray in the fourth inning. The ball caromed several feet off his protective arm pad and Baez calmly took his base.
"He got smoked in the radial nerve in the back of the elbow," Hinch said. "It hit mostly padding but the sensation shot down in his hand and he felt he couldn't grip a bat."
Hinch said he would pencil Báez into the lineup Monday until he was told otherwise.
Injuries aside, the Tigers weren't having much fun dealing the Gray. The last time they saw him, May 24, he blanked them for seven innings with 10 strikeouts. This time he allowed a run and two hits with seven strikeouts over six innings.
He mostly bullied Tigers hitters with his 93-94 mph four-seam fastball. The Tigers swung and missed at it four times and took it for a called strike 13 times. Gray punched out rookie Riley Greene three times.
The lone run came in the fourth on a two-out, two-strike RBI single by Eric Haase after Gray had hit Báez and walked Miguel Cabrera.
But the Tigers were already playing uphill at that point.
"The injuries are more frustrating than the losses," said Haase, who also doubled in the game. "It's like, if you are going out and getting your butts kicked every night, that's one thing. But these games are going how they are because guys are coming out of games with injuries and you fighting back.
"That's more tough. You don't want to see anyone out there getting hurt. It's just a really tough spot. We can't figure out where the injury bug is coming from."
Rookie Angel De Jesus, just recalled from Triple-A Toledo, got seven straight outs and Jose Cisnero, just back off the injured list, pitched a clean sixth. But then, out of necessity, Hinch had to use his leverage relievers in a non-leverage situation.
The Twins scored three times off Michael Fulmer in the seventh and two off Alex Lange in the eighth. It was the first time all season Fulmer allowed three runs in an inning. He'd allowed three earned runs total in his previous 21 games dating back to May 24 covering 19.2 innings.
Infielder Kody Clemens pitched the ninth, allowing a run on three singles in his third relief appearance this season
"I still hate it as much as I did the first time I did it," Hinch said of using a position player to pitch, which he's had to do nine times this season. "But it's a necessity. We have 17 straight games coming up. We have a really good San Diego team coming in, then we go to Toronto and to Minnesota and then have the Rays at home.
"We won't see any easy lineups in the next 17 days."