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Tigers know spark can restore winning ways

Club remains optimistic as second half awaits despite dip to .500 mark

DETROIT -- At the time, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus hoped Sunday's walk-off win over the White Sox was a turning point toward more positive results.

Following Thursday's 8-4 loss to the Pirates, which completed a three-game sweep at Comerica Park, Ausmus admitted Detroit is still searching for that inspiration.

"Sometimes, in my experience, there's something that sparks a team," Ausmus said. "Sometimes, for an unknown reason, a team turns around, whether it's a gradual turnaround or a spark that turns it around. You just don't know. Maybe something helps."

Perhaps, then, Ausmus' heated argument with home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook in the fifth inning -- which resulted in the manager's ejection -- was another attempt to will his team forward. Instead, Detroit dropped squarely to .500, and 20-22 at home.

Video: [email protected]: Ausmus on 8-4 loss to Pirates, series sweep

With 10 games remaining before the All-Star break, the Tigers closed their set with Pittsburgh 6 1/2 games behind the American League Central-leading Royals and 4 1/2 games behind the Twins, who were set to open a four-game series at Kansas City on Thursday night. Last season, the Tigers never trailed the division leader by more than three games.

Injuries to right-hander Justin Verlander and designated hitter Victor Martinez hampered Detroit until the middle of June, but the club has fallen farther in the standings since both have returned.

"I think we've definitely got to pick it up a little bit," said right fielder J.D. Martinez. "It's easy to get kind of laid back -- we know the All-Star break is coming up, and stuff like that. But I feel like now, going into the break, is when we kind of need to make up ground, keep it close so that in the second half, when we do play the Royals and we do play Minnesota -- and all of our divisional teams more -- it's a close game and we can keep the ball in our court."

Video: [email protected]: J.D. Martinez's three-run homer makes it 4-3

Martinez has been one of the biggest bright spots for the Tigers, and the outfielder added to his impressive summer with a three-run homer in the eighth inning on Thursday. That cut Detroit's deficit to one run, but reliever Bruce Rondon allowed four runs in the ninth to halt his club's comeback bid.

Tigers pitching yielded 22 runs on 49 hits -- including five home runs -- to the Pirates. Detroit led for just a half-inning of the 32 frames in the series.

"I'm definitely frustrated," J.D. Martinez said. "I just -- last year ... the biggest thing that I learned was how much fun that last month of September was. That's one thing that, if we don't start playing better, getting some wins, keeping it close, that last month's going to be a drag.

"That's baseball. You play for those situations. Last year was the most fun I've ever had playing ball, as far as coming down to the wire like that. You live off that adrenaline toward the end of the season. I know we're frustrated right now, because we're really not capitalizing on our games and the situations that we're given."

Alejandro Zúñiga is an associate reporter for Follow him on Twitter @ByAZuniga.
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