With short-handed 'pen, Tigers lack late matchups

Detroit escapes several jams, only to give up go-ahead hit in 8th

With short-handed 'pen, Tigers lack late matchups

TORONTO -- The Tigers spent most of Thursday thwarting threats, from two bases-loaded jams to at least one runner in scoring position in six of eight frames. That's what the Blue Jays' lineup does.

Eventually, the Tigers ran out of thwarts. And as they stewed over a 5-4 loss, they weren't thinking as much about the pitching questions for the rest of the series -- including starting pitchers to be determined Saturday and Sunday -- as they were about the questions the Blue Jays forced on Thursday.

"It was a battle," starter Justin Verlander said. "Those guys, one through nine, fought me."

Verlander stranded seven runners through the first five innings, but he used 103 pitches. His four walks marked his highest total since June 30, 2015. Verlander had thrown Josh Donaldson a 92-mph fastball his second time up that went to the left-field wall at 112 mph, according to Statcast™. That was on manager Brad Ausmus' mind as he walked to the mound following Verlander's throw home to retire Kevin Pillar on former Tiger Ezequiel Carrera's squeeze bunt in the sixth.

Verlander throws out Pillar

"Donaldson had some pretty good at-bats against him," Ausmus said. "That's more what it was than anything else. With what Donaldson had done against him, the way he looked against him, I just felt like a fresh arm would be better."

From then on, the Blue Jays forced matchups. The Tigers were a late-inning reliever short, having sent Bruce Rondon back to the team hotel with illness.

Somewhere, they needed one extra out from a pitcher to put the bullpen in order. It was not going to come from closer Francisco Rodriguez, who Ausmus does not want to bring on for a four-out save at this point. Ausmus was hoping it could come from Shane Greene, who replaced Verlander an inning earlier than usual and got ahead of Donaldson before hitting him with a 1-2 pitch.

Greene stranded the bases loaded with a strikeout of Edwin Encarnacion and pumped his fist on his way to the dugout.

"It was huge, but I can't go out there the next inning and do what I did," Greene said. "I wasn't the same guy, didn't have the same stuff. This one's on me tonight."

Greene came back out for the seventh with a 4-2 lead and gave up a Michael Saunders leadoff double, followed two batters later by a Troy Tulowitzki RBI single. On came Justin Wilson, normally the eighth-inning setup man, needing five outs to carry a lead to the ninth.

Wilson struck out Justin Smoak, yielded a Kevin Pillar single and retired Darwin Barney. But with the top of the order up in the eighth, he, too, had a battle.

"They put some good at-bats together," Wilson said. "Donaldson hit a pretty good pitch that he pushed the other way. I have to get the leadoff man out, especially being left-handed. That's probably the biggest part of that situation."

His defense got him an out when James McCann ran down Carrera between third and home. Ausmus went to the mound to check on Wilson and stuck with him. But once Wilson lost Russell Martin to a two-out walk to load the bases, Ausmus turned to Alex Wilson, whom Tulowitzki greeted with a two-run single.

Tulo's go-ahead two-run single

"I think at the end, Justin was out of gas, so we went to Alex," Ausmus said. "Ideally, you like to bring them in for an inning and get them out, but the circumstances tonight, with a close game, we needed our best relievers, and we might need them to get four or five outs. It just didn't work out."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.