Can’t stop the bleeding: Tigers reeling from inability to create or limit big innings

Detroit News

Milwaukee — The Tigers opened a three-game series with the Brewers Monday with 13 losses and a minus-42 run differential.

Thirty-nine of those runs came in nine crooked-number innings and six of the losses came as a result of those innings.

“Stopping the bleeding has definitely been tough,” catcher Eric Haase said. “We’ve pretty much had it going our way with lineups and then there’s the one blowup that turns it all around. I don’t feel like our attack has been any different. The running game (against the Tigers) hasn’t been awesome.

“It’s just been one swing here and there. Just trying to stay away from that three-run homer. That’s been coming back to bite us.”

For all the mistakes (mental and physical) and bad breaks that have befallen the Tigers through the first 20 games, the propensity to give up the big inning feels uniquely ruinous.

“We’re losing the big at-bats in those innings,” manager AJ Hinch said. “That’s what that means. And usually there is a walk in there or multiple walks. You lose the big at-bats with everything on the line — that’s where the crooked numbers come from.”

Case in point there: In the third inning of a scoreless game in Baltimore Saturday, lefty Joey Wentz was one out away from getting out of a first-and-third, one-out mess. But Adley Rutschman muscled a broken bat single. Ryan Mountcastle slapped a two-strike single. Anthony Santander walked. And then Ramon Urias cleared the bases with a double.

From zero runs to four runs in four batters, all with two outs.

“Crooked numbers also come from giving up a free 90 (feet) at some point,” Hinch said.

Spencer Turnbull will get the start against the Brewers on Tuesday. He’s been dinged by the big inning in three of his four starts. In his first start of the season, after 19 months recovering from Tommy John surgery, he hit a batter, walked one, and had an error made behind him — all leading to a seven-run inning.

In his last start against Guardians, he was cruising, allowing only a single through four innings. But with two outs in the fifth, he issued a walk and a hit-batsman. He got out of that inning but it rolled the Cleveland lineup over and ended up being a precursor a fatal three-run sixth.

He made one bad pitch — but it was a center-cut, 2-0 fastball that Jose Ramirez put into the seats for a three-run homer.

“It’s just mistakes, honestly,” Haase said. “We’re really sharp and then we get a little less sharp in those situations. Like spiking balls, starting innings with walks — that’s how things get started. If you get two quick outs and walk a guy, OK. But when you start off an inning with a walk, it’s been like we’ve seen — they string a bunch together.”

Five of the eight big innings have come against Tigers’ starting pitchers from the fourth inning through the sixth. Matthew Boyd and Turnbull have been repeat victims. Turnbull hasn’t pitched since 2021 and Boyd only made 10 relief appearances last season. Both are being eased into the season in terms of pitch counts and innings.

So the question put to Hinch was whether it’s been tougher to read where those two pitchers are, fatigue-wise, during an outing, simply because there is no base from 2022 to work off of.

“The walks have hurt us consistently through those starts,” he said. “That has nothing to do with injuries or previous workloads. Within any given start, when we haven’t controlled the strike zone, we’ve been getting into trouble — whether that’s been the fourth inning or the sixth inning like it’s been lately.

“To a man, the times they’ve got into trouble, there’s been a walk involved.”

A walk or hit-batsman has been involved in six of the nine blowup innings.

“Workload management and looking at it over time is more of a six-month view,” Hinch said. “We’ve done a lot of work to get these guys extra rest and that’s to alleviate the concern with workload. When they get the ball, no one is thinking about the injuries they are coming off of.”

Hinch said the battle to read pitchers’ fatigue levels isn’t different this year than any other year he’s managed.

“It’s been tough every year,” he said. “It’s always hard to get into the physical part of every pitcher you have. There are more mental hurdles with that for the players than there are from my position.”

There is no one template for this, of course. Fatigue levels vary per player and per outing based on a multitude of factors, not all of them related to past workloads. And the answer isn’t always just to pull the starter at the first sign of distress.

The Tigers have built their bullpen with three long-inning relievers to take up the slack for the starters coming off shortened seasons. But it’s not built to eat up five and six innings every game.

It would help immensely if the margin of error in these games weren’t so thin. The Tigers have scored the fewest runs in baseball (60) and are averaging three runs per game.

“And that compounds it,” Haase said. “We’re not swinging the bat well right now. If we would be matching some of these big innings we’ve given up, we wouldn’t even be talking about it. We’ve been inconsistent on both sides. Just been frustrating.”

The Tigers have had four innings all year where they’ve scored three runs. They scored a total of three runs in the series in Baltimore, one per game. But they were 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position and left 21 runners on base — stranding the bases loaded twice.

“We haven’t been able to capitalize,” Hinch said. “When you lose the big at-bats on both sides of the ball it doesn’t lead to good results.”

True story.

Crooked numbers

Here are the nine blowout innings the Tigers have endured this month:

∎ April 1 at Tampa — seven-run third inning, Spencer Turnbull, L

∎ April 3 at Houston — four-run fifth inning, Matthew Boyd, W

∎ April 6 vs. Boston — four-run sixth inning, Turnbull, L

∎ April 8 vs. Boston — six-run second inning, Joey Wentz, L

∎ April 8 vs. Boston — three-run eighth inning, Tyler Alexander, L

∎ April 11 at Toronto — five-run eighth inning, Mason Englert, L

∎ April 18 vs. Cleveland — three-run fourth inning, Boyd, W

∎ April 19 vs. Cleveland — three-run sixth inning, Turnbull, L

∎ April 22 at Baltimore — four-run third inning, Wentz, L

Tigers at Brewers

First pitch: 7:40 p.m. Tuesday, American Family Field, Milwaukee

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

SCOUTING REPORT

RHP Spencer Turnbull (1-3, 7.85), Tigers: His stuff has gotten crisper, his fastball firmer, with each start. He dominated the Guardians in his last outing for four-plus innings before fading in the sixth. The next step in his return from Tommy John surgery is to be able to carry his stuff and velo deeper into games. It’s coming.

LHP Eric Lauer (3-1, 4.30), Brewers: Opponents have gone out of their way to stack their lineup with right-handed hitters against him, with good reason. Left-handed hitters are 1-for-12 against him in just 13 plate appearances — 1-for-10 against his cutter-four seam fastball combination. In 80 plate appearances, right-handed hitters are slashing .278/.338/.542.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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