Tigers welcome break after recent scuffles

V. Martinez voices frustration as club's record dips to .500

Tigers welcome break after recent scuffles

MINNEAPOLIS -- After a 7-1 loss to the Twins to cap off the first half of the season, Victor Martinez had a blunt diagnosis for what his team needed to do in the second half.

"Play better. It's simple. Play better. Play better. Be better. Pitch better. Better defense," Martinez said. "If [anyone] wants to win, especially a championship, we have to play better. You can't win the way we're playing right now. It's simple."

The Tigers limped into the All-Star break with their fourth loss in six games and their third straight to Minnesota. Before the game, manager Brad Ausmus said players look at the All-Star break like a kid looks at summer vacation, so it's safe to say his team is welcoming the time off.

"It's not a good way to go into the break, lose three in a row. It's really not the way we would have liked it to go," Ausmus said. "We'll take the four days off. Guys can get refreshed. Come back Friday."

The Tigers ended the first half 44-44, behind both Kansas City and Minnesota. They're closer to fifth place -- two games -- than first place -- 8 1/2 games -- and though general manager Dave Dombrowski said before the game that they were still trying to win right now, they know they have to be, well, better.

Martinez said the Tigers can't focus on any team other than their own, especially not the Royals when the Twins are also ahead of them. Instead, they have to go out and execute, something they struggled to do in Minnesota.

No. 4 starter Alfredo Simon has given up five or more earned runs in his past five starts after Saturday's loss to the Twins. Shane Greene, who was called up for Sunday's start, also struggled. For the second straight game, the Tigers found themselves down early.

"It's tough when you're in a hole early to bounce back, especially when you've got a good pitcher like [Kyle Gibson] on the mound. I do firmly believe that Simon will bounce back," Ausmus said. "We need someone to step up in the five spot, for sure. We need David Price to keep doing what he's doing. We need [Justin Verlander] to pitch more like he did his last outing. We need [Anibal Sanchez] to continue to pitch the way he's pitched recently. We've got to play very good baseball in the second half."

After winning the first game of the series, the Tigers' bullpen let a quality start from Verlander slip away, giving up a five-run lead in the ninth inning. Ausmus said he didn't know if that game lingered but that regardless, Detroit lost the next two games.

"We were starting to play better baseball and all of a sudden, the second game here, it was pretty tough to swallow, but definitely going to be a good break," Martinez said. "I think it's a good break at the right time."

Betsy Helfand is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.