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Tigers searching for answers after loss vs. Mariners

Questions continue to nag the Tigers, who have looked shaky despite a winning record in 2017.

Seattle Mariners v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

DETROIT — Brad Ausmus is sick of it. The offense, defense, and bullpen issues.

Justin Verlander battled through some high pitch counts and finished with seven strong innings on 119 pitches. But the offense only put up one run, and it was on an error. Only Tyler Collins had any hits worthy of note.

And Collins was also the issue on defense in a game where the Detroit Tigers couldn’t afford errors. Collins’ inability to hit the cutoff man was inexcusable in Ausmus’ eyes and it simply can’t happen, he said.

Then there’s Francisco Rodriguez, who has not pitched well this year. Nor has the bullpen as a whole. Ausmus can’t trust Anibal Sanchez with 10-run leads, and when he’s forced to bring him in for a closer game because other resources are exhausted, it comes back to bite him.

But on Thursday, it was the offense. And Wednesday. After a 19-run game in which the Tigers beat the holy hell out of the Seattle Mariners, they limped to the finish for a series loss. That, more than anything, is what had Ausmus heated.

“The story's not K-Rod,” Ausmus said. “Who cares that he blew the win, we scored one run. People like to focus on the bullpen. We scored one damn run. You're not going to win a baseball game when you score one run.”

That the Tigers’ defense hasn’t been up to snuff hasn’t helped any, either. The team has no dedicated center fielder — Ausmus acknowledges as much — and J.D. Martinez isn’t coming back from his Lisfranc sprain just yet. While Martinez may not be a shining example for defense, he would still be an improvement over the current situation.

As correct as Ausmus is in that the loss primarily rests on the offense, there is plenty of blame for K-Rod. Entering Thursday’s game he had a 1.826 WHIP, career-high 3.5 HR/9, and career-high 14.1 H/9. Asked him to hold a 1-1 score in the ninth with those kind of numbers is, at the moment, almost asking too much.

K-Rod has particularly suffered against lefties (they’re slugging .826 against him entering Thursday), and in this series finale, he was facing Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, and Ben Gamel. The latter of those two are lefties, but Justin Wilson had just thrown 21 pitches after striking out the side for a 1-2-3 inning. The next-best option in that case was K-Rod.

“It's tough to protect a closer against a lefty or a righty,” Ausmus said. “It's just difficult to do. Maybe in certain situations you might be able to walk a guy, but you generally don't want to put guys on base and add fuel to the fire in a save situation. A lot of times, you're putting the tying or winning run on base, and that's extremely dangerous.”

Unfortunately, K-Rod just doesn’t have it right now. After the game he said he wasn’t experiencing difficulty with repeating his delivery, it’s just a matter of missing his spots in the zone. The result was the loss of the game, and a manager tiring of the collective poor performance scattered at just the right — or wrong — times.

If there’s one good thing, it’s that Verlander looked more in control of his stuff on Thursday. He had to fight for it and said he didn’t have a chance to use his changeup, but overall he’s feeling better about his command. As he tweaks things, he’s inching ever closer to locking in his dominance for the season, and that’s a good sign for the Tigers.

“Yeah, felt good (and strong after 119 pitches),” Verlander said. “Again, another good sign. I noticed a little bit of fatigue in parts of my arm that aren't exactly normal (from preparing differently) but I think it used to be normal. It's one of those things where anytime you make adjustments, even small ones, it affects the way you throw the ball. You're gonna get fatigue or soreness in various areas.”

Now, if only the rest of the team can figure things out.