DETROIT -- Ron Gardenhire has managed 2,311 Major League games, not including the postseason. Until Thursday, he had used a position player to pitch only once, a scoreless inning from veteran Michael Cuddyer in a lopsided game at Texas on July 25, 2011. While other managers have made a habit
DETROIT -- Ron Gardenhire has managed 2,311 Major League games, not including the postseason. Until Thursday, he had used a position player to pitch only once, a scoreless inning from veteran Michael Cuddyer in a lopsided game at Texas on July 25, 2011. While other managers have made a habit of it in recent years, Gardenhire has remained steadfast against it.
“I hate it,” Gardenhire said. “What if somebody hits a line drive and hurts the guy? There’s so many parts of it I hate.”
As the A's runs and the Tigers' long innings piled up Thursday, following similarly taxing games against the Astros earlier this week, Gardenhire had a decision to make. He could throw his closer, Shane Greene, into what was then a 15-run game, or he could use utility man Brandon Dixon, who pitched twice last season for the Reds and had offered earlier to do the same. The rest of Detroit's bullpen was exhausted.
“I’ve said all along, and I’ve told [general manager] Al [Avila] this: I don’t want to be responsible for hurting somebody out there, pitching them too much and using all these bullets that they’ve got,” Gardenhire said. “It’s a long season, and what are we, a third of the way? I don’t want to be accountable for hurting somebody, and I want to make sure that we take care of those guys.”
In came Dixon, throwing sliders ranging from 62 to 75 mph according, to Statcast. He hit the upper end of the scale to strike out Marcus Semien. Mark Canha hit one at the lower end of the range for a two-run homer.
That, as much as the 17-3 final score, demonstrated the extent of the Tigers’ exasperation and Gardenhire’s frustration.
• Box score
“Players are frustrated,” Gardenhire said. “No one likes to look terrible out there. Our fans were frustrated. We could hear it, rightfully so. They expect more out of our baseball team. I expect more out of them. This is on my shoulders to make it right.”
Gardenhire's message wasn't just to the pitchers, it was also to the position players who didn’t make plays behind them.
“It was a bad day today,” Gardenhire said. “We had one of our guys that had been throwing the ball [well] today and it didn’t work out, but it started because we didn’t catch the ball. That’s where we have to catch the ball and get outs. You can’t let one little play go, because people in this league beat you up and kill you for it.”
This was supposed to be one of the Tigers' better days, the rotation having come back around to promising young rookie Spencer Turnbull. But after the hard-throwing right-hander retired six of Oakland’s first seven batters, Detroit’s infield defense -- which has been sputtering this week -- had a costly inning. A slow double-play turn from shortstop Ronny Rodriguez and an errant throw on another double-play attempt from first baseman Niko Goodrum helped extend the inning for a Steven Piscotty two-out walk, followed by Jurickson Profar’s first career grand slam.
“Things like that happen behind you, and you have to find a way to pitch out of it,” Turnbull said. “I wasn’t able to do that today. Just frustration with not executing a couple pitches.”
Only one of Oakland’s six runs off Turnbull was earned. His four innings tied the shortest outing of his brief career. But the A’s were just getting started, adding two sixth-inning homers off Blaine Hardy, a four-run seventh inning off Reed Garrett and a two-run eighth off Victor Alcantara.
Dawel Lugo’s second Major League homer, a three-run shot in the ninth inning, prevented what would’ve been the Tigers’ most lopsided shutout loss since at least 1908. A 16-0 loss to the St. Louis Browns on Sept. 9, 1922, still holds the record.
“When a game gets away from you like that, it’s tough,” Turnbull said. “You don’t want to ever give up. Six runs in the third, the game’s not over. It’s going to be tough to come back from 17 in the ninth. It’s hard, but you keep doing your job.”
Still, it was a bad day in a bad week. Add in the three-game sweep to the Astros, and the Tigers -- a team that split a four-game road series with the American League Central-leading Twins just last weekend -- have been outscored by a 41-9 margin over their last four games. It’s their most lopsided four-game stretch since 1996, the year the Tigers posted a 6.38 team ERA.
Detroit’s injury-depleted starting rotation has been pummeled, and the resulting innings of relief left their young bullpen gassed. The Tigers' minus-81 run differential is the lowest in the AL and second lowest in the Majors to the Marlins, who visit Comerica Park next week.
For a team and a manager that have prided themselves on playing hard to the end, it is humbling.
“Let’s not just say these guys stink because of the last few ballgames here,” Gardenhire said. “I think these guys give everything they possibly can. They bust their tails. We’re trying to do a rebuild here and ad-lib and get these guys through until we get all these young prospects up. But still, there’s a lot of pride out here in this clubhouse, and no one wants to play like that.
“Our fans, they’re right to let us have it, let me have it. It’s my job to make these guys understand how important it is every day to come out and play. I didn’t do a good job of that today, and I’ll be back out there tomorrow trying to make sure we do.”
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.