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Gardenhire: 'It’s a challenge right now'

In Tigers' loss to Twins, double play a reminder of up and down season
@beckjason
June 9, 2019

DETROIT -- Nicholas Castellanos had advanced to third base and was in position to head home as Brandon Dixon’s one-out line drive carried into right field. “I took a secondary [lead], I saw the way he swung at it, and my first instinct was to score,” Castellanos said. • Box

DETROIT -- Nicholas Castellanos had advanced to third base and was in position to head home as Brandon Dixon’s one-out line drive carried into right field.

“I took a secondary [lead], I saw the way he swung at it, and my first instinct was to score,” Castellanos said.

Box score

But as Twins outfielder Max Kepler came in and made the catch over his head, Castellanos’ turn left him in position to be doubled off. Shortstop Jorge Polanco was standing on the bag calling for the ball, but second baseman Ehire Adrianza took the throw from Kepler, walked over and stepped on the bag instead.

“He didn’t forget how many outs there,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “You saw the swing.”

Dixon had thrown his bat out at Twins starter Jake Odorizzi’s 2-2 pitch off the plate and connected. Statcast gave the ball an expected batting average of .850, but the Twins had their defense ready for a two-strike approach, bringing Kepler in a couple steps.

It was the final pitch for Odorizzi in six innings of one-run ball, and a punctuation mark in the Tigers’ 12-2 loss. It was also a microcosm for some of the tests the Tigers face as their trying season continues.

Though they competed relatively well over their last three series against three potential playoff teams in the Twins, Rays and Braves, they also had games like this. The Tigers have also scored one run over a two-game stretch against Tampa Bay. They’ve fared better the last few weeks than they did during their 0-9 homestand last month, when they lost four times by five or more runs, but they’ve also been reminded of the gap between their rebuilding roster and clubs ready to win now.

“We knew this was going to be tough,” Gardenhire said. “We had a tough road trip. All we can do is keep competing and trying. We’ve got infielders all over the place, outfielders all over the place. We’ve got basically four starters. It’s a challenge right now.”

On days when the Tigers pitch well, such as Friday’s seven strong innings from Matthew Boyd or Saturday’s bullpen game, they compete well to the end. On days like Sunday, when the Twins roughed up Ryan Carpenter for eight runs on 10 hits over 3 2/3 innings, that competitiveness is tested.

The challenge, Castellanos said, is to shake off the latter games and prepare to compete in the others.

“To not succumb to it, really,” Castellanos said. “You don’t really feel that great about yourself when you look at the scoreboard and you see you and your teammates getting your [tails] kicked. But it goes back to turning the page. It’s way easier said than done.”

The Tigers were staring at the scoreboard and an 11-1 deficit when Castellanos was doubled off. It was 12-1 when JaCoby Jones stepped to the plate an inning later.

John Hicks’ ground-rule double brought up Jones, whose two-homer game made him the hero of Saturday’s win but who spent much of Sunday afternoon chasing Twins drives in the outfield gaps. His legs were already sore, Gardenhire noted a couple days earlier, before all of Sunday’s running. If he was ever going to lose his concentration and fall out of his newfound approach, this was the time. Instead, he centered a 1-0 fastball from Mike Morin and put a line drive in the small pocket of center field that Byron Buxton couldn’t reach, plating Hicks.

It was a reinforcement for Jones, whose hitting tear the last few weeks has lifted him from a Tiger with an uncertain future -- a fast start to the season for Daz Cameron at Triple-A Toledo might have resulted in a change -- to someone who could well be part of the Tigers’ rebuild on the other side.

“I feel like we played some good baseball here and there,” Jones said of the homestand. “Today, it didn’t work out for us. They jumped on us early. It was just a tough game, but you live and you learn. You learn from these games.”

That’s what Gardenhire wants them to do through struggles, learning about approaches at the plate, how teams adjust, and the continued importance of fundamentals.

“This will make us better,” Gardenhire said. “Somewhere down the road, we’re going to get better for it. We just have to keep plugging away. Our fans keep coming out and keep cheering. That’s what we ask for, and we appreciate that. Hopefully we’re going to do better as we go along this summer.”

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