Detroit Tigers’ Nick Castellanos reacts after swinging at a pitch for a strike in the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Boston. Castellanos struck out swinging during the at bat.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – They arrived here bleary and beaten.
Losers in lopsided fashion on Sunday night in Boston, the Tigers hopped off their flight in western Florida around 5 a.m. Monday morning and hopped into bed sometime later.
They have yet to wake up.
In the latest chapter of a crucial week before the July 31 trade deadline, Anibal Sanchez struggled and the Tigers’ offense slept through the first game of a three-game series against the Rays in a 5-2 loss at Tropicana Field.
“We haven’t done well,” Ausmus said. “We would have liked to have done better but I’m not throwing in the towel and I don’t think they are either. In fact, I know they’re not.”
But the team’s subpar play against subpar teams after the All-Star break – which the front office pegged as put up or shut up time – is threatening to throw in the towel for them. With the loss, they fell to 12 ½ games behind the Royals in the American League Central and 4 ½ games behind the second AL wild-card spot. They are three games under .500. There are three more left until the July 31 trade deadline.
It was a struggle from the start for Sanchez, who threw 24 pitches in the first inning, walked two and was checked out by team trainer Kevin Rand. He stayed in the game, allowing a run each in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
In the third, former Tiger farmhand Curt Casali hit a solo home run. In the fourth, Kevin Kiermaier hit a RBI double. In the fifth, Logan Forsythe hit a RBI single.
Sanchez threw 5 1/3 innings, allowing three runs – all earned – on eight hits. He struck out six and walked two over 113 pitches. He snapped his streak of seven consecutive winning starts in the loss.
“He was pretty wild today,” catcher Alex Avila said. “But he battled and figured out a way to keep us in the game. He clearly didn’t have his best stuff but he figured out a way to give us strong innings.”
The Tigers offense – silenced by right-hander Nate Karns early – came to life late when, in the seventh inning, Yoenis Cespedes hit a lead-off solo home run and in the eighth inning, when they threatened to tie the game.
After Ian Kinsler singled to cap a nine-pitch at-bat against Rays set-up man Jake McGee, Cespedes strong-manned an inside fastball into leftfield for a bloop RBI base hit.
But McGee then struck out Victor Martinez swinging to end the frame, and the Tigers didn’t threaten again.
Casali, who was traded for left-hander Kyle Lobstein’s rights in 2013, put the game on ice with a two-run home run off Bruce Rondon in the eighth inning.
“I thought he was going to get out of it,” Ausmus said. “But obviously I was wrong.”
After the game, the Tigers’ clubhouse was closed for quite some time as team officials shuffled in and out, lending both suspense to the team’s current situation and perhaps a look into the not-so distant future, which could see players shuffle in and out.
“No change as far as I know,” Ausmus said about that future.
There was nothing going on in the clubhouse afterwards, he said, “And I wouldn’t say if there was.”
Both statements rang truth: Even with the urgency amped up after the All-Star break, there has been no change in the Tigers’ performance. They are 4-7.
And once again, there was nothing going on offensively. The team totaled five hits.
“It’s never fun when you’re not playing the way you expected to play but we’ll come back tomorrow,” Ausmus said. “We’re not throwing in the towel.”
They take their ace to the mound this afternoon and with the trade deadline looming and the team’s indecision lingering, lefty David Price’s assignment in his old stomping grounds could very well be his last before he lands with a new team.
“You win three of four or four of six and someone’s perspective changes,” Ausmus said. “We just haven’t been able to put that type of run together.”
And they’re running out of time.