DETROIT -- The Detroit Tigers are nearly halfway into their second season with Brad Ausmus at the helm. Managers generally settle in and have adjusted to their new team by now. They know what works best for the team, what to avoid, and they're in tune with events in a game. That hasn't been the case with Ausmus, especially of late: whether it's a fielder not at his position, a pitcher not on the mound, or the value of a power bat in extra innings.
On Sunday David Price never took the mound for the seventh inning. He thought his day was over, took his uniform off, and went to the weight room. With two outs and extra innings a real possibility, Victor Martinez's bat was taken out of the game on Thursday, and it cost a win. Friday a missed signal from Ian Kinsler cost the Tigers a challenge. Yoenis Cespedes wasn't at his post on June 15.
These are just examples in the last two weeks, and all but one occurred in the last week. Two of the decisions in and of themselves, if you look at them without comment, are primarily on the player. The middle two are on the manager first and foremost. But it's how Ausmus has addressed each situation that's concerning, and hopefully not a trend.
"I thought he was still in the game, he thought he was done. He reacted like he was finished and so he went upstairs. I reacted like he was still in and he wasn't there. It's no big deal," Ausmus said on Tuesday regarding Price not showing for next inning on Sunday. "I usually do tell them that's it or shake their hand, whatever the case may be. But in this case he went in the tunnel (between innings)."
Asked whether that's a routine Price typically follows -- going into the tunnel, Ausmus said: "He does, he goes down, comes back up and cheers for his teammates. But I'm not paying attention all the time whether he comes back up or not, I'm watching the game."
Price took responsibility for his actions. But that's not the point.
Following the June 15th game Ausmus said he "didn't know until someone mentioned it" to him that Cespedes was missing.
Kinsler was "doing jumping jacks" trying to get the attention of the dugout on Friday. In that instance, yes, Kinsler should have stalled for time until the information had been relayed, but the bigger issue is that the Tigers second baseman was physically doing jumping jacks in a futile attempt to get Ausmus' attention.
"That was a play we should have challenged, if we had seen it," Ausmus said after that game.
Regarding his decision to pinch run Victor Martinez in the ninth inning with two outs, the statistical likelihood of the game going to extras was extraordinarily high, but Ausmus thought short-term. Even if it's the ninth inning with less than two outs and runners on-base already, keeping one of the most powerful bats in the lineup would, normally, be a no-brainer. You play for the extra innings, even if you're attempting to end it before the situation calls for it.
Instead, Ausmus -- and on more than one occasion this year -- tied one of the team's arms behind its proverbial back when he took Martinez out of the lineup. While the chances of Martinez coming back up to bat in the next inning are statistically slim, you still need that bat for the 11th inning ... or the 12th if need be. The reason behind removing Martinez at the time was because, Martinez scoring from first on an RBI double, or triple, or whatever the case may be, was highly unlikely. The next day, Cespedes smoked an RBI triple, scoring Martinez.
Did that change Ausmus' thinking on how he'd approach whether to remove Martinez late in a game?
"Not a ton," he said. "That (right-center field gap) might be the one spot the ball could get hit where (Martinez is) gonna score. If that would've been the ninth inning with him on second I would've ran for him there, too. Gotta remember, it also depends how many outs there are in the inning. For instance, with Victor on second there was only one out, you gotta go at least two more hitters. If they walk either Cespedes or J.D. intentionally, now you're going three more hitters past Victor. Now he comes into play in the next inning.
"So, you gotta think about that when pinch running, whereas the other day with two outs, if Cespedes makes an out, I'm eight hitters away (from getting to Victor Martinez)."
Except, on that situation last week, remembering how many outs there were in the inning was not something Ausmus took into account when he removed Martinez from the lineup. Asked whether he'd rather have Martinez's bat in the lineup, (especially in extras -- excepting extended situations like the 15th and beyond, for example) Ausmus had an interesting, and troubling reply, and one that continues to reflect questionable decisions and lack of managerial awareness of late.
"I mean, I always want him in the lineup," Ausmus said. "But at some point you gotta try and win the game. You can't have Victor standing on second with no outs (like in the eighth on Sunday), and then all of a sudden the guy hits a single and we're first and third. That's why they have pinch runners, actually, so that people that are faster and can get on-base and score on balls that other runners may not score."
Having batters on first and third with no outs would not be a bad spot to be in. But the decisions shouldn't stop there, or the next inning. Trying for the win before extras isn't in question, and it's not a bad idea to try for it in the right situation. But sacrificing your second-most potent bat at the cost of that, is in question, among other decisions.
This is not a one-time event. Whether it's just a really bad two weeks or the beginning of a trend, it's troubling either way. And it's something that the Tigers can't afford to have happening. Especially when Detroit is already in third place in the AL Central Division.