DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera was taking batting practice Monday afternoon at Comerica Park when he yelled over to the Tigers’ dugout and asked in Spanish for the ballpark music to be turned up. It was too quiet; he wanted more noise, more energy.
Hours later, as manager A.J. Hinch tried in vain to keep shortstop Javier Báez in the game amid an argument with home-plate umpire Nick Mahrley, this wasn’t the energy they wanted. They certainly didn’t need the noise that came with Báez and Hinch both being ejected.
Detroit acknowledges its struggles. With Monday’s 2-0 loss to the A’s, the Tigers have scored eight runs over their six-game losing streak to go with a 24-inning scoreless streak. Detroit’s last runs scored were on Cabrera’s two-run double Saturday in Houston, the only run-scoring hit in the past 36 innings. Both of the Tigers’ runs on Friday scored on outs. They’ve lost 13 of their last 15, and they scored more than three runs in just two of those contests.
But when Báez took a Dany Jiménez pitch on the outside corner for a called third strike, the frustrations boiled over, some of it caught by the field microphone behind the plate. The emotions weren’t much different than what fans have been feeling lately.
“Obviously, we have not played well,” said Hinch. “You try not to carry everything into the game. I want to keep our players in the game. If we tie that game and Javy no longer plays, that’s a bad outcome for our chances of winning moving forward. So I’m going out there to make sure that Javy’s not doing anything when I get in between the player and the umpire. And I can’t reiterate enough that Javy said nothing that you wouldn’t say in front of your mother. He was just saying he thought it was a ball.
“I thought [Mahrley] had a tough night. I didn’t think [Báez] needed to be thrown out at that point with me standing in between them. There was nothing aggressive going on. They got tired of the argument and threw him out and threw me out. But yeah, there’s growing frustration across the board inside. We’re getting beat in relatively close games for the most part, and we expect more out of ourselves.”
Compounding Detroit’s frustration Monday night were well-struck balls that went for outs. For nine innings, the two frustrations intersected. Cabrera came up in the first inning with Báez on first and hit a line drive with a .480 expected batting average, according to Statcast. But he hit it right to first baseman Sheldon Neuse, who stepped on the bag to complete the inning-ending double play.
Two innings later, Robbie Grossman came up with two outs and Tucker Barnhart on second. After swinging and missing at a high cutter from A’s starter Paul Blackburn for an 0-2 count, Grossman took a cutter slightly higher that drew a called third strike. The inning ended, but Grossman’s conversation with Mahrley continued as Tigers players took the field for the next inning until Hinch ran out to separate them.
Austin Meadows’ two-out double put another two-out runner in scoring position in the fourth inning for Jonathan Schoop, whose struggles this season include a .139 batting average. He pulled a line drive with a 105.3 mph exit velocity and a .650 expected batting average, but third baseman Kevin Smith snared it.
At that point, the frustration was percolating.
“I thought [Mahrley] had a couple calls on Robbie,” Hinch said. “I thought he had a call on [Jeimer Candelario]. I thought he had a call against [Tigers starter Michael] Pineda. I thought he had a call against Javy a couple times. He had one on Schoop when I got upstairs; I didn’t see it on TV. …
“I think [Mahrley] had a tough night. And we’re all trying to do our best; there’s no agenda here. But that can frustrate you when it’s multiple times.”
The called third strike on Báez brought the frustration out into the open — not just for the strike zone, but for the Tigers’ stretch as a whole.
“No matter if you’re 50 games over .500 or 50 under, we play this game to compete,” Barnhart said. “And each at-bat, each play, is like a microcosm of the whole season. You compete to make the play and move on. It’s not necessarily just the fact that we’ve been on a little skid lately. I just think it’s the pure competition of everything that’s going on, not only tonight but all over the season.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s everything snowballing into a head or whatever you want to say, but I just think it’s the overall competition. I think it’s the competitor in all of us.”