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Unlucky 7th remains hurdle for Tigers bullpen

Negative run differential in the inning is the team's largest
@beckjason
August 4, 2019

ARLINGTON -- The Tigers’ history at Globe Life Park included a fifth inning with 18 combined runs back on May 8, 2004 -- eight for Detroit to take a commanding lead in the top half, 10 against them to lose the lead in the bottom half. When Detroit bid farewell

ARLINGTON -- The Tigers’ history at Globe Life Park included a fifth inning with 18 combined runs back on May 8, 2004 -- eight for Detroit to take a commanding lead in the top half, 10 against them to lose the lead in the bottom half. When Detroit bid farewell to the Rangers’ longtime home on Sunday afternoon, it had the seventh inning to regret instead -- not just in Sunday’s 9-4 loss, but all weekend.

It’s the inning that Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire has seen haunt the team all season, the tipping point between an injury-depleted rotation and an unproven bullpen. Their negative-40 run differential in the seventh is their largest of any inning this season, their 81 runs allowed trailing only their 85 runs allowed in the eighth. With setup man Joe Jimenez now closing and Gardenhire left to mix and match for eighth-inning setup work, it’s an even murkier inning now.

It’s a particularly demoralizing inning because of what it takes for the Tigers to carry a lead to that point. And that made this weekend’s sweep by the Rangers all the rougher.

Box score

“We feel like we’re in every game, honestly,” starter Jordan Zimmermann said. “We’re pitching well. We’re grinding out at-bats. We’re getting some hits when we need to, scratching some runs across. It’s just [that] things aren’t going our way right now.”

It was particularly tough on Sunday, considering the Tigers had just tied the game in the top of the seventh on a Niko Goodrum single and a Logan Forsythe error.

But as Nick Ramirez’s wild pitch plated a fourth Texas run in the home half, putting Rougned Odor on first with the fourth walk of the inning, you could see spirits sinking. The only hit for Texas in the frame was Willie Calhoun’s bases-clearing triple. Sunday’s woes followed two unearned runs off Buck Farmer in Saturday’s seventh to erase a Detroit lead, and what seemed like a Texas insurance run that eventually became the difference in Friday’s one-run loss.

The three games featured three different pitchers for the Tigers in the seventh -- one trying to keep a deficit close, another vying to protect a lead, and another trying to keep Sunday’s game deadlocked. On Sunday, Jose Cisnero and Ramirez combined to throw 37 pitches, just 16 for strikes, before Eduardo Jimenez threw one pitch for the final out.

None of these pitchers was called up for high-leverage work. But with roles in flux following Shane Greene’s trade to the Braves, Gardenhire is pressed to find out who can get him outs.

“We were playing a pretty good ballgame [Sunday], other than a few mistakes out there,” said Gardenhire. “And then it got away from us in the end. We’ve used our bullpen an awful lot. Those guys have been throwing. You can’t walk three people in an inning and expect to come out unscathed, and it didn’t happen.”

Two of those walks came after the Tigers had put a hitter down in the count. Cisnero, the hard-throwing right-hander who was an offseason discovery out of winter ball, had leadoff hitter Jeff Mathis in an 0-2 hole before walking him, then walked Shin-Soo Choo on five pitches. A Danny Santana groundout moved both runners up before Jeimer Candelario’s throw retired Mathis at the plate on an Elvis Andrus grounder to third.

With three consecutive left-handed hitters due up, on came Ramirez, who took a tough-luck walkoff loss Saturday on a disputed checked swing to Odor before his walkoff homer. His two-out walk to Nomar Mazara had no such disagreement. Ramirez put Mazara in a 1-2 count with back-to-back swings and misses on cutters on the outside corner, then tried to expand the zone with the same pitch, seemingly trying to avoid the pitch over the plate that beat him Satudray. The resulting three cutters were all well off the plate, barely inducing a reaction.

“I think at that point, he tried to make it really nastier, tried to expand it more,” catcher John Hicks said, “instead of just throwing the same pitches he threw to get there.”

Once Ramirez fell behind with a 2-0 count to Calhoun, Hicks went to the mound and told him to throw his pitch closer and take his chances. Calhoun laced a line drive into the right-field corner, putting Detroit down for good.

“He normally does really well,” Gardenhire said of Ramirez. “We have a lot of trust in him. The unfortunate part is that Cisnero walked two guys and then he walks one. The bases are loaded, and anything can happen. You’re fair game after that. You make one bad pitch, and there you have it.”

The Tigers led at some point in all three games here this weekend, only to suffer their second series sweep in Texas in three years. They lost eight of their final nine meetings at Globe Life Park. By the time the Tigers return next year to visit the Rangers’ new home across the street, to be named Globe Life Field, they hope to be further along in their youth movement, notably on the pitching side. Part of that could include the dreaded seventh.

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