As losses and injuries pile up, AJ Hinch asks Detroit Tigers to ‘respond accordingly’

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers went 13-for-91 in their three-game series, a mere .143 batting average, and got swept by Cleveland on Sunday in a 5-2 loss at Progressive Field.

Along with dropping four straight games, the Tigers (3-6) dug themselves into a deeper hole at the conclusion of the first of three legs in a 10-game road trip. After starting the season 2-0, Detroit has lost six of seven. They scored one run in the first game, three in the second and two in the finale.

Meanwhile, Cleveland pounded the Tigers, putting up 20 runs, 23 hits and 13 walks.

“We just got our ass kicked by the Indians for the third time in a row,” manager AJ Hinch said. “I handle my business managing behind the scenes behind the scenes. I know people are curious about it, but I’ll handle things directly.”

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Although it’s unclear how Hinch plans to solve the problems, or at least get his squad to look competitive, the Tigers’ road trip doesn’t get any easier. They have a three-game series against the Houston Astros beginning Monday and a four-game slate with the Oakland Athletics beginning Thursday.

Entering 2021, the Astros and Athletics were projected to finish at the top of the American League West Division. Both squads are expected to contend for deep postseason runs.

“Look, we just got to flush it, come back tomorrow and play our ass off,” said outfielder Robbie Grossman, a leader in the clubhouse with nine years in the majors. “Tough three games, but it’s over with. We got to show up tomorrow, and we got a new opportunity to win a series.”

The Tigers are scheduled to face a trio of strong Houston right-handers: Zack Greinke (Monday), Jake Odorizzi (Tuesday) and Lance McCullers Jr. (Wednesday). Detroit will counter with, in order, right-hander Casey Mize, lefty Matthew Boyd and righty Michael Fulmer.

Grossman is taking a positive mindset into the upcoming challenge. He doesn’t seem concerned about the offense, even though the Tigers didn’t advance a runner past first base — expect for home runs — Friday and Saturday.

“Every day is a new day,” the former Astro said. “It’s a what have you done for me lately business. Show up tomorrow and put our best foot forward. We start 0-0 with our series tomorrow.”

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Catcher Wilson Ramos — a 12-year MLB veteran — said the team needs to regroup, communicate and create its own energy, either through dominant pitching or mighty offensive achievements.

Recently, the Tigers haven’t accomplished either.

“We need to keep our head up,” Ramos said. “It’s hard right now, losing four in a row, but we have to keep fighting to go out there and do our best. I know right now is the time to talk in the clubhouse with everybody. I have to do it and try to give some confidence to the guys.”

On Sunday, Hinch said Cleveland made critical at-bats count by hitting the baseball and driving in runs. Right-handed starter Jose Urena gave up two runs on three hits and five walks but couldn’t make it through the fifth inning. He buried himself with seven three-ball counts.

As Cleveland made contact, the Tigers ended their crucial at-bats with swings-and-misses. The eighth inning alone featured three swinging strikeouts, the final two with Grossman on second base in a one-run game. In the bottom of the frame, right fielder Nomar Mazara made throwing errors on back-to-back plays — allowing two runs to score for the final three-run deficit.

“We have to continue to challenge ourselves and hold ourselves accountable to a high level, playing a winning style of baseball and holding ourselves accountable when we make mistakes,” Hinch said. “We have plenty to work on and take away to make us better moving forward.”

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Again, the Astros — Hinch’s team from 2015-19, before he was fired and handed a season-long MLB suspension in January 2020 for his role in the franchise’s sign-stealing scandal — won’t make it simple for the Tigers

They must show more fight.

And they’ll have to do it without a few veterans.

Miguel Cabrera, 37, was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left biceps strain Sunday morning, forcing the organization to add first baseman Renato Nunez to the roster. Right-hander Julio Teheran, 30, missed Friday’s start and was placed on the 60-day injured list with a right shoulder strain. The team is also awaiting the return of righty Spencer Turnbull, who has missed the first three series while ramping up his arm in a comeback from the COVID-19 injured list.

The Tigers remain uncertain about the severity of Cabrera’s injury.

“He’s one of the leaders on the team,” Ramos said. “Everybody knows him as a great leader, and he can help this team a lot. Hopefully, he can come back soon.”

But Hinch won’t use the injuries as a crutch for ugly losses.

“I mean, it is what it is,” Hinch said. “Every team deals with injuries. There’s no excuse. It opens opportunities for other guys to step up. It’s more at-bats for somebody else, more innings for somebody else. The players need to respond accordingly.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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