DETROIT — Sunday was about as bad as it gets for a Tigers fan.
Justin Verlander looked lost on the mound, Miguel Cabrera and Joba Chamberlain left the game with injuries and the Rangers took an easy 12-4 victory to finish off a convincing victory in the weekend’s four-game series. Add in the sweep in Cleveland earlier this week, and things have dropped a long way in the last seven days.
"Obviously, this was a pretty bad series and a pretty bad week," said manager Brad Ausmus. "You don’t expect that from us, especially when it is the starting rotation that really struggles, but every team goes through things like this. We had a big run with the six-game winning streak on the road, and now we’re having a tough one."
A 1-6 week against two struggling teams is never going to be viewed as a positive, but Detroit’s slump looks even worse when you consider that a week ago, they were sweeping Boston on national television. At that point, fans and pundits alike were talking about 100 wins and a World Series championship.
Since then, the best rotation in baseball has posted an 8.77 ERA and only Anibal Sanchez’s successful return from the disabled list kept the Tigers from losing all seven games.
To make things even more unsettling, two of the worst starts were posted by Verlander. After giving up five runs in six innings in Cleveland on Tuesday, he had one of the worst games of his career Sunday. The Rangers scored nine times off him, matching the most runs he’s given up in the majors.
The Tigers ace tried tweaking his delivery after the bad game in Cleveland, and the new motion didn’t work.
"I tried bringing my hands over my head, because I was hoping that would keep me back on the rubber longer, but it didn’t feel comfortable, so I got rid of it in the third inning," he said. "That really didn’t have anything to do with the way I pitched today, though. I just didn’t execute my pitches."
The new delivery made Verlander look like Rick Porcello, which might have been the reason that he only struck out one batter for the first time in six years. He’s not ready to give up on it yet, though.
"I’m probably going to keep tinkering with it, because I want to find a way to stay back on the rubber," he said. "I’m always going to try to find some way to do a better job of executing my pitches, and even though this has been a tough stretch, I’m always confident that I will find it."
A lot of managers might want their star pitcher to stick with what they know best, but Ausmus isn’t one of them.
"The fact that Justin is willing to go out there and try a new delivery or tinker with a pitch is the reason that he’s as good as he is," Ausmus said. "He’s ultra-competitive, and he’s going to do anything in his power to get an advantage over the hitters. Roger Clemens was the same way. They are only worried about finding a way to win."
That experimentation didn’t work Sunday, but Verlander expects that both he and his teammates will be fine on the upcoming West Coast trip.
"This happens to teams — they get hot and they get cold," he said. "But this is still a fatnastic team, and we’re going to be fine."
Things could have been much worse for the Tigers, but both Cabrera and Chamberlain said that they don’t expect to miss any time with the injuries they sustained late in the game.
Cabrera’s injury came first, happening in the seventh inning after he had singled off Robbie Ross. Don Kelly was the next batter, and as he fouled off a 2-0 pitch, Cabrera broke for second and immediately began limping. He grabbed for his right hamstring as he slowly came to a stop, and as he went back to first base, he was joined by Ausmus and trainer Kevin Rand.
After a brief discussion, he was removed from the game with what the team quickly announced was a hamstring cramp. Cabrera told Ausmus that he could stay in, but the manager wasn’t taking any chances with his star in a 12-2 game.
"If this was a crucial game in September, we might leave him in there," he said. "But in May when we are down 10, we’re going to do the smart thing."
Cabrera was walking without a limp in the clubhouse and joked with the media before saying he was fine.
"I’m already feeling better," he said. "It was just a small cramp, but they wanted to get me out of the game."
Chamberlain was equally unworried about his right ankle, which was bruised in the 8th inning as he tried to beat Rougned Odor to first base.
"He didn’t spike me, he just hit me in the back of the ankle," said Chamberlain, who tried to pitch through the problem, but left after walking the next batter. "I wanted to get some ice on it to keep the swelling down, and I’ll take care of it on the plane tonight. We’ll see how it feels in the morning, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be ready to go tomorrow."