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Santiago offers insight on Tigers' tough stretch

Relievers VerHagen, Stumpf returning from DL next week
MLB.com @beckjason

TORONTO -- Ramon Santiago has been there. The last time the Tigers lost 11 in a row, Detroit's current first-base coach was Detroit's shortstop. That was in 2003, the year the Tigers set an American League record with 119 losses.

So while manager Ron Gardenhire held a team meeting Sunday morning to allow players to air out their emotions and opinions on the struggles, Santiago was one of the few who could relate.

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TORONTO -- Ramon Santiago has been there. The last time the Tigers lost 11 in a row, Detroit's current first-base coach was Detroit's shortstop. That was in 2003, the year the Tigers set an American League record with 119 losses.

So while manager Ron Gardenhire held a team meeting Sunday morning to allow players to air out their emotions and opinions on the struggles, Santiago was one of the few who could relate.

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"Now you appreciate how hard it is to win a ballgame in the big leagues," Santiago said. "They're going through that right now, so they just have to stay positive, make adjustments if necessary, and you'll get out of this."

Like many players on the current team, Santiago was a youngster in 2003, his first full season in the Majors. The Tigers went young by design that year, and released veteran second baseman Damion Easley to open playing time for Santiago and fellow youngster Omar Infante.

Unlike this year's team, the 2003 team never came close to .500. Its losing streak was a continuation of the club's struggles, having lost nine in a row at the start of the season and again later on. They also struggled to stay competitive at times when falling behind early in games.

They lost 10 in a row in September, putting a 120-loss campaign in sight, before winning five of their final six games to avoid the mark.

"I think we simplified things," Santiago said. "Don't try to do too much. And everybody relaxed a little bit and played a little bit looser. Right now, we're trying to do too much. We just need to go back to the basics. We did it before."

The 2003 Tigers had an incessantly positive presence in first-year manager Alan Trammell, whose tone was echoed by his coaching staff, many of them former teammates. Gardenhire has been setting a similar tone with this club, trying to keep things loose. When Gardenhire saw first baseman John Hicks on the training table Sunday morning, he jokingly asked Hicks if he broke his neck chasing pitches during his sixth-inning strikeout Saturday with runners at the corners.

That tone echoes through the staff, including Santiago.

"The guys are trying hard, believe me," Santiago said. "I can tell you that for sure. They're working hard. They're getting after it. They're doing everything they can. So they're giving the effort. That's all you can control. You can't control the outcome, but you can control the approach to the game. They're doing that. I know that things aren't going the way we want, but this is going to stop. We're going to be all right."

Bullpen moves coming

Look for relievers Drew VerHagen and Daniel Stumpf to return from the disabled list next week, likely when the Tigers arrive in Chicago for their two-game series against the Cubs beginning Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

Stumpf's rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo is essentially over after back-to-back outings for the Mud Hens on Thursday and Friday. The Tigers have given him a couple days off before activating him so that he's ready to pitch when he returns. He has been shelved since May 29, when ulnar nerve irritation in his left elbow landed him on the DL.

Video: DET@CIN: VerHagen hit in on nose, leaves game in 7th

VerHagen, who went on the DL June 20 after a ball broke his nose, threw a rehab outing for Toledo on Saturday. His arm is healthy, so it was essentially a freshening-up assignment.

"When we get into Chicago, we'll probably be making some moves, trying to figure out how to get those guys back up here," Gardenhire said. "We'll wait until then."

Busy international signing period expected

Baseball's international signing period begins Monday, and the Tigers are favored to sign of two of the top 30 prospects on MLB Pipeline's rankings.

Dominican outfielder Jose De La Cruz, ranked 15th on the list, is advertised as having some of the best raw power of any prospect eligible to sign this summer. The 16-year-old already has 195 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame. He's athletic enough to play center field, though he could settle into a corner spot if he fills out further.

Another Dominican, shortstop Adinso Reyes, has a similar frame after reportedly going through a growth spurt, but has maintained infielder's speed. He ranks 19th on MLB Pipeline's list with reliable hands and a strong arm.

Quick hits

• Gardenhire expressed continued faith in Victor Martinez despite his struggles to drive in runs from the cleanup spot.

"I don't expect him to be a 100-RBI guy," Gardenhire said. "But I expect quality at-bats, and I believe that he's given us a ton of quality at-bats, as good as anybody else on this roster. We need some veterans in here to stabilize a little bit, and that's what he does out in the clubhouse and in our lineup."

Alex Wilson remains sore after leaving Saturday's game with a left hamstring strain, but the right-handed reliever is expected to be available to pitch again as soon as Monday's series finale.

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

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