DETROIT — It was a dangerous day for pitchers in general and a pretty tough one for the Tigers’ bullpen.
Pitchers were getting hit — literally. Those that weren’t couldn’t seem to find the plate.
Toronto starter Mark Buehrle was hit on the foot on a double-play ball by Alex Avila in the second inning, but remained in the game.
Detroit reliever Darin Downs managed to duck out of the way of a come-backer off the bat of Melky Cabrera in the seventh inning. Downs was nearly killed on a similar play in the minor leagues.
“You can’t (think about it),” Downs said. “… It’s happened many times. It’s nothing big. I’ve been hit, too, hit in the leg.”
Toronto reliever Darren Oliver, 42, took a shot off the arm on a ball hit by Austin Jackson but stayed in to pitch the eighth.
Most cringe-worthy was Octavio Dotel, who got the final two outs of the seventh and came back out for the eighth. Emilio Bonifacio greeted him with a shot that hit Dotel where no man wants to be hit.
Amazingly, Dotel got the out at first before collapsing to the ground. He then regrouped and finished the inning.
Downs allowed a couple of inherited runners to score, which made a 6-2 Tigers lead a 6-4 Tigers lead in the sixth.
They were fine until Brayan Villarreal came in with a runner on and one out in the seventh. Villarreal got ahead of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Mark DeRosa, but ended up walking all three. DeRosa’s walk scored a run.
“Villarreal threw a nasty pitch for strike one and couldn’t throw another strike after that,” Leyland said. “You got a guy throwing 95-96, with a good slider, if he throws the ball over the plate, you feel pretty comfortable about that.
“… He’s obviously had a tough time throwing the ball across the plate, and that’s the one thing you’ve got to be able to do.”
J.P. Arencibia then got to Dotel for a bases-clearing double and the 6-5 lead was gone.
“He gave up the hit, but that’s a tough situation for anybody to come into,” Leyland said. “I thought he settled in and pitched well.
“I’m not worried about him, he’s a veteran that’ll get going.”
Villarreal, whose ERA went from 33.75 to 54.00, said all three were walked on fastballs.
“I was out of control (Wednesday),” Villarreal said. “I was trying to throw strikes and I couldn’t. I don’t know what’s going on.
“It’s something I have to work on with my mechanics or something.”
Villarreal speculated that he might be pulling his shoulder when he pitches, but said he’d have to look at some video with pitching coach Jeff Jones.
“I know, last year, he struggled a little bit early on, then came out and threw really well for us,” catcher Alex Avila said. “I mean, it wasn’t great baseball conditions out there, either, to throw.
“I think he just needs to keep working at it.”
The good bullpen news is, Phil Coke came in and threw a perfect ninth, including getting right-handers DeRosa and Arencibia out.
“He was hitting his spots, using all his pitches, threw well,” Avila said. “Looked like he got a little bit of his swagger back.”
The Tigers are going to need that swagger from everyone in the bullpen, especially with the closer-by-committee situation still in effect.
They’re scoring plenty of runs. Now they just have to stop the other team from scoring late in the game.
“We had a 6-1 lead and we let it get away,” Leyland said. “