Game 40: Long day of travel, night of short bullpen
The Tigers already had one factor going against them in Cleveland by the time they left Boston, even though Brad Ausmus didn’t want to use it as a reason why they lost.
“It’s not an ideal situation,” Ausmus said after the 5-4 loss. “It’s not an excuse.”
At the same time, however, the decision to keep Robbie Ray around as an extra starter for the week apparently played some factor. It certainly played into Ausmus’ bullpen decisions once Drew Smyly was done after 110 pitches and five innings.
The ripple effect from Smyly’s five walks over five innings led to Phil Coke entering in the sixth. The Tigers’ temporary six-man bullpen led to Ausmus sticking with Coke for the seventh.
“We’re kind of shorthanded in the pen, so we needed a couple innings out of Phil there, which he gave us,” Ausmus said. “It wasn’t really a strategic move in that sense to keep their bats on the bench. We had to be prepared in case the game went extra innings.”
The Indians had David Murphy and Lonnie Chisenhall on their bench when rookie Jesus Aguilar came up with a runner on third and one out in the seventh. Coke put Aguilar in an 0-2 hole, then threw an offspeed pitch up and well out of the zone that Aguilar fouled off.
That, Coke said, was actually a mistake pitch, not a chase pitch. The pitch that followed, a fastball up that Aguilar lined to center for a go-ahead sacrifice fly, was not a mistake. The intention for that one was to get Aguilar to chase.
“The fastball up was right where we wanted to throw it,” Coke said. “That was the plan. That was what we talked about. Threw it where we wanted to. Good piece of hitting on his part. I can’t stress that part enough. He got enough of the barrel to it to get it out there far enough.”
From there, it was pretty much single innings apiece — Ian Krol for the eighth, Joba Chamberlain for the ninth, Al Alburquerque for the 10th.
“He was available to go an inning,” Ausmus said of Alburquerque, “but that would have been it for him. He did throw an inning and a third yesterday.”
Joe Nathan was presumably going to be the last in line unless the Tigers took a lead. Take him out of the equation, and then the only reliever left for a tie game in the 11th was Evan Reed.
That’s how the Tigers bullpen is going to be the rest of this series, which makes a deep start by Justin Verlander vital for their chances Tuesday. As easy as that would seem for him, he used up 110 pitches over six innings in his last start Wednesday at Baltimore.
Well beyond that, however, the Tigers are going to have to watch their setup relievers. Twenty-eight relievers have made 20 or more appearances in the American League so far this season, and the Tigers have three of them. They certainly have company — Cleveland has four relievers with 21 or more appearances, while the Rays have four with 20 each — but the Tigers have a much stronger rotation, and they’ve played fewer games than any other team in the league. They’re getting results, but the Tigers will have to avoid wearing them down too much before the stretch run, even before Joel Hanrahan adds some depth.