August 13, 2022

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Tigers look to turn the page on difficult stretch

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Hinch emphasizes taking one game at a time, looking forward
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LOS ANGELES – Tigers manager A.J. Hinch has made a team culture out of four words: Win the day’s game. He doesn’t want his team looking too far forward, nor replaying things too far back. He wants their focus on the short term.

So it’s not surprising that he doesn’t have time to look back on last season, when Detroit started 8-24 and played seven games over .500 for the rest of the year.

“I don’t sense anybody talking about last year. That would be so against everything I’m about in this office,” Hinch said after Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Dodgers. “So we’ll talk about winning tomorrow’s game tomorrow.”

Still, if the Tigers are going to take the next step in their build-up toward contention, there are lessons from last year. Detroit suffered five hellacious weeks to open the season and spent the rest of the year digging out of it. They were 9 1/2 games out of the division lead in that aforementioned stretch, and fell double-digit games out a couple games later.

That rough start included some stretches during which playing competitive baseball felt like a challenge, including a three-game spurt where the Tigers were outscored 24-1 by the White Sox and Yankees.

This year’s struggles pale by comparison. Still, Friday’s loss stretches the Tigers’ losing streak to six games, during which they’ve been outscored by a 31-10 margin. Detroit has scored fewer runs during the six-game skid than it did in its last win, last Saturday’s 13-0 win over the Rockies.

The Tigers haven’t held a lead in three games since Tuesday’s bizarre walk-off loss to the Twins, in part because the Tigers’ offense has scored two runs in those three games.

“If you’ve been around our team, you know exactly what we need to do better in order to play more winning baseball,” Hinch said before Friday’s game.

Part of that involved a more opportunistic offense in order to find a big inning. But while the Tigers had as many hits as the Dodgers on Friday (six), all of Detroit’s hits were singles, while the Dodgers turned two home runs into three runs off starter Tyler Alexander, who gave up four runs in 12 batters and was pulled with one out in the third.

“I think A.J. was just tired of watching me give up runs,” Alexander said, “and I was, too.”

Said Hinch: “We’re trying to stay close in the game. We can’t afford 6-1 at that point; 4-1 felt like a pretty difficult hill to climb.”

The Tigers tried to parlay some aggressive play into their only rally of the night. Javier Báez singled home Detroit’s lone run in the third inning off Dodgers starter Tyler Anderson, scoring Tucker Barnhart, then kept speeding to second as the throw came in, putting runners at second and third before Miguel Cabrera lined out to second. But the Tigers missed a chance at a bigger rally in part because leadoff hitter Derek Hill was denied a bunt single earlier in the inning, because he was running out of the baseline as Anderson’s throw to first hit him.

“You can’t run in the grass,” Hinch said. “That gives the umpire an opportunity to call that.”

A day earlier, the Tigers matched the Twins with 11 hits, but were outscored 7-1. All of Detroit’s hits were singles in that game, as well. Detroit has had one extra-base hit since Báez’s go-ahead home run Tuesday; that was a Robbie Grossman double in the ninth inning Wednesday.

The Twins didn’t have any home runs Thursday, but took advantage of four Tigers errors. Detroit played cleaner ball Friday, but still suffered an unearned run to complete the Dodgers’ scoring when Mookie Betts’ fourth-inning ground ball to the left side got past Jeimer Candelario, who screened Báez’s view behind him as the ball skipped on him. Will Smith took advantage and scored from second on an infield single and error to Báez.

The Tigers’ schedule doesn’t get easier here, not with Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler set to start this weekend for the Dodgers. After a quick two-game homestand against the Pirates to begin next week, the Tigers head to Houston for four games next weekend against the defending AL champions. Detroit knows how it will have to improve to avoid having their recent struggles turn into the kind of rough start that takes a good chunk of the season to overcome.

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