Shaky loss in Texas leaves Tigers feeling 'blah'

Shaky loss in Texas leaves Tigers feeling 'blah'

Shaky loss in Texas leaves Tigers feeling 'blah'
ARLINGTON -- It wasn't the heat that did in the Tigers in Texas on Sunday, even though the temperature got to 104. It was plenty else.

They went into the heat hoping that familiarity would yield fairer counts and smarter swings in their third meeting with Yu Darvish, and a chance to take a big road series against the American League West leaders. By the time the late innings came around, and temperatures reached their peak, it was hard not to think about getting out of town.

They came in from Sunday's 8-3 loss looking and sounding drained, mentally and physically. On the physical side, they have an elbow issue with reliever Brayan Villarreal that will be examined by a doctor in Minnesota. Potentially bigger is the issue with MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera, who fouled a pitch off the top of his left foot -- the same leg where lingering ankle soreness led manager Jim Leyland to put Cabrera at designated hitter twice over the past week.

"If the game had gotten far enough out of hand, I would've gotten both [Cabrera and Prince Fielder] out of there," Leyland said. "But when we make it 6-3, I can't get them out. Even 8-3, in this ballpark, is not very much. It's a lot, but yet it's not a lot in this park."

Earlier, it felt close. By the end, it felt like more. That was the mental toll from this one. Just like Saturday night, and their previous two losses at home to the Yankees, they had chances here that went squandered, a couple of them all too quickly.

Their innings behind Rick Porcello, by contrast, seemed all too slow. The damage from Rangers hitters to Porcello was just part of it.

Add it up, and Leyland could describe it succinctly.

"Ugly. Really ugly," he said.

He had a better word for it later: Blah.

"We just played a bad game, a blah, bad game," Leyland continued. "And that happens. You turn the page and go to Minnesota."

They headed north with their deficit in the AL Central now at two games behind the White Sox, who beat Oakland earlier in the day.

The Tigers had seen Darvish twice already this season, and though he racked up strikeouts, they inflicted their damage. The Rangers won both previous matchups thanks in no small part to run support.

By and large, the Tigers waited out Darvish in counts, forcing him to throw strikes to win. Still, their struggles in key situations -- the first inning being one, the fourth and fifth innings being others -- kept Darvish not only in the game, but with a quality outing. Both middle-inning scenarios fell apart on first-pitch outs.

Considering opponents entered the day batting .421 (24-for-57) with three homers off Darvish's first pitches, it wasn't altogether unfounded. The way he was struggling to find the strike zone early, though, it seemed ill-advised.

"He actually started to command his fastball a little better later in the game," Leyland said, "but early on it didn't look like he could command his fastball. That's the way I've seen him pretty much every time. He's got a good fastball, but against us he's been a breaking-ball pitcher."

Darvish might have set the tone for his outing in the opening inning, when he went from back-to-back 3-0 counts on Cabrera and Fielder to back-to-back strikeouts, getting both of them to chase pitches out of the strike zone to strand a runner on second.

Darvish got three first-pitch groundouts in as many at-bats against Brennan Boesch, whose first-pitch groundout in the ninth inning Saturday squandered a bases-loaded, one-out opportunity. On Sunday, he was jammed on first-pitch cutters in the fourth and fifth innings.

The first came after a walk to Fielder put two on with nobody out in the fourth inning. Once Darvish's next pitch got a ground-ball double play from Delmon Young, he was out of the inning. An inning later, with Cabrera on second after a two-run double, Darvish intentionally walked Fielder to bring up the potential tying run in Boesch, who grounded into an inning-ending fielder's choice.

Boesch went 0-for-7 in the series. He added a third-inning error when Josh Hamilton's ground-ball single skipped past him and kept rolling.

"He's struggling right now," Leyland said. "I don't know what to do with him, because he's fighting himself. He gets mad when we talk about relaxing, but he's just fighting himself."

Darvish (12-8) allowed three runs on six hits over 6 2/3 innings, walking five and striking out eight. He had given up 18 runs over as many innings on 23 hits in his previous three starts.

Porcello (9-7), who pitched six innings of one-run ball here at the end of June, gave up a two-run homer to Hamilton in Sunday's opening inning and never recovered. His throwing error trying to get an out at third base paired with Boesch's error to fuel a three-run third inning.

"That's a part of our game," Rangers manager Ron Washington said about taking advantage of mistakes. "When we're able to do it, we're going to do it. That's the way we play. And when you have the type of athletes I have, you have to let them go."

By the end, the biggest positive about Porcello's outing was that he pitched enough innings to avoid draining the bullpen, although Darin Downs warmed up several times over the course of the day before finally pitching the last 1 2/3 innings.

"It was definitely a grind for sure," Porcello said, "but results obviously weren't what we were looking for."

Jason Beck is a reporter for 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.