Cleveland — Coming off three straight losses, with the offense scuffling, losing both Julio Teheran (shoulder) and Miguel Cabrera (biceps strain) in successive days just three games into a 10-game trip, it would have been easy for the Tigers to drag tail into the series finale against the Indians Sunday.
Except their manager wouldn’t let them.
“This has not been a great week for us but if your chin is already down and you are already defeated after eight games, that’s a problem,” AJ Hinch said before the game.
The battle level, alas, was not the problem for the Tigers on Sunday. The offense continued to be, though. It remains in a dormant state as the Indians completed the three-game sweep at Progressive Field, 5-2.
The Tigers, who rank last in the American League in runs, went 13 for 91 in the series.
“Things only pile up if you bring them with you,” Hinch said after the game. “Obviously, when you start every day fresh, I don’t believe in things piling up. We didn’t give ourselves the best chance to win today on a couple of fronts. But that had nothing to do with yesterday or the day before.
“It’s about today.”
It is only nine games into the season and less than 40 at-bats per player. And in facing the Indians six times and the Twins three times, they’ve faced some oppressive pitching. But the reality is, the Tigers aren’t stringing together hits or producing many scoring chances.
“I don’t look at the game that way,” Hinch said. “I look at it on an individual game basis. And the lesson coming out of today was, the critical at-bats for them ended in contact and runs, and we had a lot of critical at-bats end up in swing and miss.
“They won those at-bats by putting the ball in play and giving themselves a chance to score.”
A ground ball to second base by Jake Bauers scored a run in the second inning. A slap single by Cesar Hernandez scored a second run — both of those off starter Jose Urena who lyielded only those two runs in 4.2 innings.
A double-play grounder by Amed Rosario scored the third run in the sixth off reliever Daniel Norris.
Conversely, the Tigers struck out five times with runners in scoring position.
“Look, we just have to flush it,” said Robbie Grossman, who got on base twice and has been on base in 17 of 33 plate appearances this season. “Just come back tomorrow and play our butts off. It’s a tough three games but it’s over with.
“Just show up tomorrow — new series, new opportunity to win a series.”
The Tigers best chance to put up a crooked number came in the first inning. They had Indians lefty starter Logan Allen on the ropes. They’d already scored a run on a single by Jeimer Candelario and had the bases loaded with two outs.
But Allen, on his 33rd pitch of the inning, got Jonathan Schoop to swing through an elevated slider to end the inning.
Allen then put up quick zeroes through the fifth inning, allowing only one hit before turning it over to a well-rested bullpen that limited the Tigers to two hits the rest of the way.
One of those hits was a solo home run by catcher Wilson Ramos in the seventh. It was his fourth of the season and, tellingly, all four have come with the bases empty.
“At some point we are going to have to talk (to the team), because we need some more energy out there,” Ramos said. “We’re going to keep our head up. It’s hard right now, but we have to keep fighting.”
Things went off the rails for the Tigers in the eighth. Jose Cisnero walked Jose Ramirez, then gave up singles to Eddie Rosario and Franmil Reyes, both to right field. Tigers right fielder Nomar Mazara threw errantly to third base on the first one and then airmailed an unnecessary throw to the plate on the second.
“We have to continue to challenge ourselves and hold ourselves accountable to a high level and to playing winning-style baseball,” Hinch said. “And we have to hold ourselves accountable when we make mistakes.
“If we look at this weekend, we have plenty to work on and plenty to take away to make better moving forward.”
Hinch said he’s not accepting moral victories or silver linings. Just learn from today and move forward to tomorrow. Which won’t be any easier. Next stop is Houston where the Tigers hitters will face a trio of stingy, battle-tested right-handers — Zack Greinke, Jake Odorizzi and Lance McCullers, Jr.
“That’s the challenge of the big leagues,” Hinch said. “You expect to face these challenges every day, especially against the good teams.”
Monday will present a different type of challenge for Hinch, too. It is the first time he’s been back to Houston as a visiting manager.
“I haven’t let myself go there emotionally,” said Hinch, who had five winning seasons and guided the Astros to the 2017 World Series title. “I probably will tonight when we get into the city and go to a hotel I’ve never stayed at before as a visiting person. It’s home for me, so there’s going to be a lot of emotions involved.
“But competitively, they’re a really good team and they present a lot of challenges. I know them very well. I’ve been around them. I know they’ve gotten off to a good start. It’s going to be a different trip for me personally, but we have to get after them and attack them.”
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