DETROIT - Like clockwork, it came in the eighth inning.
It came with right-handed reliever Bruce Rondon on the hill. It wasn’t pretty, though Rondon hasn’t pitched pretty since he showed up for spring training in early February. It was the start of another bad inning for the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen.
And at the end of this one, a tag-team effort from Rondon and lefty reliever Kyle Ryan that torpedoed the Tigers’ chances to take another game from the flu-ridden Red Sox, it became even more clear that the team doesn’t have enough late-inning relievers manager Brad Ausmus can count on.
Holding the smallest of leads entering the top of the eighth inning this afternoon, Boston beat up Rondon and Ryan for four runs to beat the Tigers, 7-5.
“We gotta find someone that can pitch in the seventh and eighth innings, “Ausmus said.
He has a couple pitchers, lefty Justin Wilson and righty Shane Greene, but both were unavailable because of their workload the previous two days. So he went back to Rondon, whose ineffectiveness was a catalyst for Opening Day’s late collapse, and the results were similar.
Rondon allowed a walk and a single, punctuated by an overthrow by Justin Upton in leftfield, and after an intentional walk, Ausmus called on Ryan, who promptly walked home the tying run and allowed a two-run single. For good measure, the Red Sox scored again on a groundout.
Like Opening Day, the Tigers would threaten again. But scoring three runs against Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel proved too tall a task.
Ausmus was mum on Rondon’s status. He’s showed diminished velocity this spring and a lack of location, and all Ausmus would say is, “We’ll figure it out.”
“We need to perform better as a group,” he said. “I’ll say that.”
The Tigers’ bullpen has been bad through the first five games of the season: In 14 1/3 innings, they have allowed 12 runs on 16 hits, with a 1.40 WHIP.
On this day, it squandered another solid starting pitching performance and deflated the Comerica Park crowd after Nick Castellanos hit a go-ahead solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was Castellanos’ second homer of the season.
Norris squared off against reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello – a former Tiger – and started off so-so, before settling in during the middle innings. He finished with 6 1/3 innings pitched, allowing three runs on seven hits. He walked three and struck out two.
“Kind of one of those days,” Norris said. “I kind of settled down as the game went on, but I think that kind of happened when I hit a wall after the second and third (innings). I started focusing more on my pitches and that’s when I had more success.”
The two teams traded one-run tallies in the early innings: Upton and Ian Kinsler each delivered two-out RBI singles in the first and second, respectively, but both times, Norris relinquished the lead the next inning. In the fourth, another Kinsler RBI single put the Tigers ahead for a few innings.
Norris had settled by that point but was hooked after an infield single on the 97th pitch of his outing, with one out in the seventh inning.
Alex Wilson entered and induced an inning-ending groundball double play, but the Red Sox challenged the play – accusing Kinsler of not touching second base – and were successful.
The next batter, Andrew Benintendi, tied the game on a single to leftfield.
Then came the eighth inning, and the Tigers’ bullpen took it from there.
After Upton’s overthrow put runners on second and third base with nobody out, Ausmus elected to intentionally walk the hot-hitting Mitch Moreland.
Ryan walked Brock Holt, allowed a two-run single to Sandy Leon, and the Tigers would not have a lead again. They put the first two men on in the bottom of the ninth inning, plating one, but couldn’t close the gap, coming closest on a Victor Martinez fly ball that went home run distance but sailed a dozen feet or so foul in rightfield.
“We couldn’t hold them late,” Ausmus said. “We had a lead late, we just couldn’t hold them.”
It sounded awfully familiar.
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