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

Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
·5 min read

The Detroit Tigers went 13-for-91 at the plate 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 its past seven. They scored one run in the first game, three in the second and two in the finale.

Meanwhile, Cleveland pounded the Tigers in all aspects, including a combined 23-for-94 (.255) performance on offense. Detroit managed six runs, 13 hits and six walks. Cleveland had 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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Detroit Tigers' Robbie Grossman celebrates after scoring on an RBI single by Jeimer Candelario during the first inning of a MLB game in Cleveland, Sunday, April 11, 2021.
Detroit Tigers' Robbie Grossman celebrates after scoring on an RBI single by Jeimer Candelario during the first inning of a MLB game in Cleveland, Sunday, April 11, 2021.

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 from Monday through Wednesday and a four-game slate with the Oakland Athletics from Thursday through Sunday.

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."

Aiming to escape the dreaded losing skid, 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 counters 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 — in Friday's and Saturday's game.

"Every day is a new day," Grossman 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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Detroit Tigers catcher Wilson Ramos (40) rounds the bases after hitting a home run during the seventh inning April 11, 2021, against Cleveland at Progressive Field.
Detroit Tigers catcher Wilson Ramos (40) rounds the bases after hitting a home run during the seventh inning April 11, 2021, against Cleveland at Progressive Field.

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

Recently, the Tigers haven't accomplished either task.

"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."

In Sunday's game, Hinch said the lesson learned was that 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 in seven three-ball counts.

As Cleveland made contact, the Tigers ended their crucial at-bats with swings-and-misses. During the eighth, they struck out swinging three times, of which the second and third strikeouts were with Grossman on second base. In the bottom of the frame, right fielder Nomar Mazara made two throwing errors on back-to-back plays — allowing two runs to score for a 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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Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch walks back to the dugout after making a pitching change during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland, Sunday, April 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Phil Long)
Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch walks back to the dugout after making a pitching change during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland, Sunday, April 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

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

They must show more fight.

And they'll have to do it without veteran players.

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 40-man roster and active him. Right-hander Julio Teheran, 30, missed Friday's start and is 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 non-baseball (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.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: As losses, injuries pile up, AJ Hinch asks Detroit Tigers to 'respond'