DETROIT -- The Tigers' best start to a season since 1984 was neither because of their bullpen nor in spite of it. Their third loss of the season on Tuesday, 5-2 to the Yankees, was a reminder of what was the biggest looming question for many going into the season.
Detroit's starting pitching has been not only so strong, it's been so efficient that the Tigers haven't had many innings like the seventh on Tuesday. Their starters have been averaging just under seven innings a game. On Tuesday, Kyle Lobstein went six, and manager Brad Ausmus turned to his middle relief on a cold, damp night at Comerica Park to keep the game close.
Nine batters, two home runs and three walks later, the Tigers were out of the seventh. Four Tigers relievers combined to throw 41 pitches, 16 for strikes. In the process, they had pitched themselves out of a 1-0 duel and into a 5-0 margin that loomed larger once Detroit's offense rallied.
"We were pretty sloppy in the seventh inning. That's how I would describe it," Ausmus said. "Across the board, it was a little bit rough for us, and the Yankees took advantage of it."
Or as catcher Alex Avila put it, "We had issues all game, everybody, with command today."
The ball-strike ratio was skewed by a wild night from Al Alburquerque, who threw one strike out of nine pitches for two walks. The damage on the scoreboard centered on lefty relievers Ian Krol and Tom Gorzelanny, brought in to take on the bottom half of the Yankees' order.
Krol had seemingly settled into his role as Detroit's primary lefty over the past week, pounding the strike zone after an even ratio of balls and strikes over his first two outings. All three batters he faced Tuesday, however, got ahead.
Krol won a bullpen spot out of Spring Training by throwing strikes and throwing his secondary pitches in any count. With a 3-1 count to right-handed hitter Chris Young, Krol turned to his fastball. He threw it down by Young's knees, but once Young reached and connected, it carried rather easily over the left-field fence.
Krol got a full-count popup from Chase Headley, but he had to throw another fastball to Stephen Drew on a 2-0 count. Drew, a sub-.200 hitter against lefties since 2012, turned on a 94-mph fastball and sent it out at a similar velocity over the right-field corner for a 3-0 Yankees lead.
Out came Ausmus to make the rare move to replace one lefty reliever with another.
"Not just Krol," Ausmus said. "We can't be going 1-0, 2-0 on every single hitter. It was kind of a theme tonight. Quite often we got behind hitters, and then Major League hitters become much better Major League hitters when they're ahead in the count."
"They say to let a ball go, but when the ball's like that I know I can make the play," Gorzelanny said.
Gorzelanny and Krol combined to retire two of six hitters, both batting right-handed. Left-handed batters had two hits and a walk. Once Alburquerque walked back-to-back batters and mixed in a wild pitch, Ausmus turned to his third lefty, Blaine Hardy, to finally finish the inning.
Detroit's bullpen gave up four runs, three earned, on five hits with five walks over three innings. Tigers relievers had given up nine runs on 20 hits over 28 2/3 innings on the season before that.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.