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Ausmus on 'pen: 'We just have to pitch better'

Manager frustrated by having to use setup man, closer with large lead
MLB.com @beckjason

CLEVELAND -- The Tigers beat the Indians just four times in 18 games last year. They're 1-for-1 in that department in 2017 after Friday's 7-6 win. In that sense, the fresh start they sought has been attained.

In terms of their bullpen, though, it felt like the same struggles have followed them so far this season. And it was enough to even throw a damper on their much-needed win over the reigning American League champions.

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CLEVELAND -- The Tigers beat the Indians just four times in 18 games last year. They're 1-for-1 in that department in 2017 after Friday's 7-6 win. In that sense, the fresh start they sought has been attained.

In terms of their bullpen, though, it felt like the same struggles have followed them so far this season. And it was enough to even throw a damper on their much-needed win over the reigning American League champions.

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"We got out of there with a win. I guess that's the way to look at it," manager Brad Ausmus said afterwards. "It was ugly. We can't have a six-run lead in the eighth and ninth and have to use our setup man and our closer. We just have to pitch better before that."

Though closer Francisco Rodriguez gave up a Lonnie Chisenhall pinch-hit grand slam in the ninth to cut their five-run lead to one, Ausmus has a point: Rodriguez shouldn't have had to pitch in that game in the first place. Nor should setup man Justin Wilson, who stranded three baserunners to finish the eighth inning after inheriting a bases-loaded jam.

Video: DET@CLE: Chisenhall hammers a grand slam in the 9th

Friday's issues centered on lefty Kyle Ryan and just-recalled William Cuevas, who began the eighth and ninth innings. They combined to surrender five runs on five hits while retiring just one batter each. Justin Wilson and Alex Wilson each walked a batter but made sure to strand them.

Still, during a season in which Detroit's bullpen has already faced criticism for struggling to hold leads, the names get blurred. Everybody gets grouped. In fairness, the struggles have been spread around enough that one or two moves won't fix the issues. As Ausmus pointed out, the bullpen as a group has to perform better, including guys pitching outside of their roles from time to time.

"We have to pitch better. We can't be walking guys and getting behind guys. That just can't happen," Ausmus said. "If it continues, we won't win. We got through it tonight."

Ryan has had an up-and-down start since returning from paternity leave a week ago. He took a blown save in last Saturday's loss to the Red Sox, but turned in three scoreless performances aside from that. He took the mound for the eighth inning with a 6-0 lead, but back-to-back singles to Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Ramirez put him in trouble from the outset. His lone out recorded, a line drive to right by Yandy Diaz, registered at 107 mph off the bat according to Statcast™.

Video: DET@CLE: Diaz's single plates a run in the 9th

After Abraham Almonte walked to load the bases, Justin Wilson entered and held the damage to a run.

The irony of Cuevas' appearance was that he was called up from Triple-A Toledo going into the series to be a long reliever. With a 7-1 lead, he entered in the kind of situation that the Tigers had been seeking for the reliever he replaced, No. 5 prospect Joe Jimenez. A double, hit batter and two singles later, Cuevos was out.

"There's no reason that Justin Wilson and Frankie Rodriguez should have pitched in that game tonight. No reason," Ausmus said. "We've got to do a better job. We all do. We've got to do a better job to make sure that doesn't happen."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.

Detroit Tigers, Daniel Norris