DETROIT -- Michael Fulmer again gave the Tigers a chance. Rangers starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx did not.
At least the first part has become a recurring theme.
"You can only control things you can control," Fulmer said after the Tigers' 3-0 loss Sunday at Comerica Park. "Austin Bibens-Dirkx was on his game today, and their bullpen did pretty good as well. I can't control that. I've had my fair share where I've had to grab a bat, and they didn't fare as well, either. Hitting's tough, especially when their guy is pretty good. Their starter was just better than me today."
The loss salvaged a four-game series split for the Rangers, and left the Tigers searching for their first series victory since their mid-June sweep of the White Sox in Chicago. Detroit went scoreless for the final 16 innings of this series, following a seven-run opening frame off Cole Hamels on Saturday.
"We didn't hit. We didn't score a run," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You don't like to tip your cap, but they outpitched us today. I don't even know if that's the way to put it. They just outplayed us."
With trade winds swirling around Detroit's ace ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Fulmer took the mound Sunday without a heavy scouting presence, but with no shortage of eyes on him. Jurickson Profar's solo homer two batters into the game -- on a one-armed swing to loft a Fulmer slider at the knees -- put the Tigers behind for good, but the bigger damage was a two-run second inning built on two singles and a costly defensive miscue.
The Rangers hit five ground balls and a blooper in the second inning. Three of them were converted into outs, one on a baserunner's interference call that drew an argument and ejection for Rangers manager Jeff Banister. Two others resulted in runs. Only one had a hit probability over 42 percent, according to Statcast™.
"Really, there was weak contact all day," catcher James McCann said. "Take away the Profar homer and give them the [Isiah] Kiner-Falefa ground ball up the middle that he hit hard, but a ground ball is what you want. Take those two swings away, and he got weak contact."
Singles from Kiner-Falefa and Ronald Guzman brought Joey Gallo around to score following his leadoff walk. An interference call on Carlos Tocci notched an out for Fulmer on his wayward throw to first base, but Shin-Soo Choo's grounder got past first baseman John Hicks for a run-scoring error and a 3-0 lead.
Fulmer (3-8) allowed a Rougned Odor bunt single and a Guzman ground-ball single over five scoreless innings from there. Add in six strikeouts -- three on fastballs at 96-97 mph, two others off sliders -- and Fulmer had the kind of game that could win a game for a contender.
Instead, with Victor Martinez off and Nicholas Castellanos scratched with mild left wrist soreness, the Tigers struggled. Fulmer finished with three runs allows (two earned) in seven innings, allowing five hits and three walks against six strikeouts, but suffered a loss in a quality start for the first time since April 1. He's winless in his last four outings and has just one victory since May 23.
Bibens-Dirkx (2-2) took the early advantage and rolled with it, facing the minimum 15 batters through five innings, allowing only two singles. Jose Leclerc thwarted a sixth-inning scoring threat on his way to four consecutive strikeouts.
"Not only is he mixing speeds and pitches," McCann said of Bibens-Dirkx, "but he's mixing arm angles. It's a guy like that, sometimes it takes a time or two facing him to figure him out. Today, we didn't get the opportunity to figure him out."
Castellanos was scratched from the Tigers' lineup shortly before game time with what the team called mild left wrist soreness. Castellanos was scheduled to serve as the designated hitter. Jim Adduci started in his place.
The Tigers reshuffled their bullpen after the game, recalling right-hander Drew VerHagen from the 10-day disabled list and optioning Artie Lewicki to Triple-A Toledo. VerHagen had been on a rehab assignment with the Mud Hens since June 30 after fracturing his nose on a missed throw in a game June 19. The 27-year-old has given up 19 runs on 20 hits over 18 2/3 innings, with nine walks and 18 strikeouts.
The Tigers also announced that infielder Dixon Machado, who was designated for assignment on Wednesday, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Toledo. The 26-year-old Machado, who batted .206 with a .553 OPS and 21 RBIs in 67 games as Detroit's regular second baseman, had the right to decline an assignment and elect free agency.
The Tigers close out their first half with a six-game road trip, beginning Monday with a 7:10 p.m. ET game at St. Petersburg to open a three-game series against the Rays. Francisco Liriano (3-5, 4.03 ERA) takes the mound at Tropicana Field as Detroit tries to churn out offense against Chris Archer (3-4, 4.24 ERA).