DETROIT -- To say the Detroit Tigers clubhouse carried a tense atmosphere on Saturday would be an understatement. What few players remained after the team's latest loss resembled that of a last-placed Sept. 2015 team rather than one less than a month into the 2016 season. The players, and their manager, are frustrated.
"I don’t like to lose," manager Brad Ausmus said after the game. "Nobody likes to lose. We’ve lost three in a row, and got our asses kicked today. I don’t like it."
Anibal Sanchez can't command the strike zone, an issue prevalent with most of the starting staff for the last 10 games. Justin Upton has become a strikeout machine for all the wrong reasons. The offense couldn't hit a beach ball right now. There's good reason for frustration, and an urgency to fix the problems as quickly as possible.
The clubhouse opened roughly 15 minutes after the game ended, an abnormality compared to the usual five or so delay, and it was telling. Something needs to be done. The bullpen has been used far too often. The relievers need some relief and right now the starting rotation don't appear to be the ones offering it, least of all, Sanchez.
"I would give you a really good answer, but I really don't know what's going on," Sanchez said.
Ausmus wouldn't get into the details, but he did acknowledge that part of the reason for the delay in opening the clubhouse was to discuss roster options. About an hour after the game ended, the Toledo Mud Hens announced that starter Matt Boyd had been scratched from his start. After Kyle Ryan was sent to the mound for 49 pitches across 3 2/3 innings, the Tigers are left with few other options.
To pin the starting woes on Sanchez alone is unfair, there is plenty of blame to go around. But so, too, is there for the offense. They've driven in two runs in the last three games, lost three straight, and six in their last 10. Upton is "struggling mightily," Ausmus admitted, and there appears to be no end in sight. His track record shows he goes through stretches like this, but even so, it's a pretty bad slump to go through so early.
Whether that means Upton will get knocked down in the lineup or more drastic measures are in store has not yet been determined. But that discussion has also been had, and if Upton doesn't turn it around soon the team is going to have to make a decision. Miguel Cabrera may be going through his usual April slumps, but with the rest of the team unable to get a hit, the timing couldn't be worse.
And it's not as if Cabrera isn't hitting the ball hard at times, it's just that when he does make solid contact it ends up as an out. Even on Saturday when he scorched a ball to Francisco Lindor that caused the shortstop to fall over, it wasn't enough. The big guns have fallen silent, and it's having an effect on the rest of the offense. The same could be said for some in the starting rotation, too.
High pitch counts in a single inning have limited the rotation and forced Ausmus to use the bullpen more often. It's also led to more runs, especially in the first inning where Shane Greene, Mike Pelfrey, Justin Verlander, and Sanchez have combined to give up 18 runs in the first 16 games of the year -- in the first inning alone. And the worst offender of that is Sanchez, who has allowed eight. He, and the other starters, are having a hard time getting that third out.
"I've been struggling location-wise against big league teams," Sanchez added. "They take advantage of all my mistakes, especially when you're around the zone and you don't hit the corners or side to side, change the speed. They took advantage of that, they jumped on a couple of pitches.
"I'm working on (the high pitch count). I'm not used to throwing that many pitches, especially early in the game. You can have one or two innings (with a high pitch count) but you don't wanna throw seven-plus innings, you don't wanna throw 35 pitches, or even 16 pitches in an inning, I think it's too much."
The only starter without a care in the world right now, is Jordan Zimmermann. He hasn't allowed a run in three starts. Unfortunately, he's the anomaly where he should be the norm. Verlander struggled until Friday's sparkling start, Greene is still iffy, and Pelfrey is playing with fire at every turn.
The offense is going to be fine across the long haul. Cabrera's bat will pick up, J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez will follow suit, and the rest will fall into line. But if the starting five can't get with the program, it won't matter how many runs the offense drives in. A team can't win games if their pitching can't keep the score down. And if the Tigers aren't winning, Saturday's tense clubhouse isn't likely to get any better.