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Tracy Ringolsby

Tigers ready to move past tough stretch

Detroit has five-game lead in AL Central; hoping to build off Tuesday's win

Tigers ready to move past tough stretch play video for Tigers ready to move past tough stretch

OAKLAND -- OK, so Tuesday night's 6-5 win for the Tigers vs. the A's wasn't a work of art. But it was a win.

And that, more than anything, is what mattered for Detroit.

There weren't any style points. The winning run came when pinch-runner Rajai Davis did what he was put in the game to do -- run. He even stole third base on a the throw back from catcher Derek Norris to pitcher Fernando Abad, and then scored on an Austin Jackson fielder's choice. Twice earlier in the game, 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer had let Oakland rally.

But who's complaining?

"We certainly needed it," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said at the opening of his postgame news conference.

And moments later, Ausmus threw in a "we definitely needed it."

Still, it is not like panic had set in.

"The mood has been good all along," Ausmus said. "But you could tell the players really wanted this win. It's not that they don't want to win every night, but they really wanted this one."

The Tigers are 29-19 and sitting atop the AL Central, five games ahead of the second-place White Sox. They are the only team in the division with a winning record. Tuesday's victory, however, was only their second win in the past nine games, and it was the eighth time in that stretch they'd given up at least five runs.

Detroit has given up nine or more runs in five of those contests, and had been outscored, 34-6, in losing its three previous games.

Here's the punchline: As bad as those numbers seem, the Tigers feel so good about their situation. They have headline-stealing offensive players, including the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter, whose game-tying home run in the seventh Tuesday was the 23rd home run of his career which either tied the score or gave his team a lead in the seventh inning or later.

But most of all, Detroit has a strong rotation, anchored by Scherzer and Justin Verlander, a six-time All-Star and the 2011 AL MVP Award and AL Cy Young Award winner.

That's been the puzzle of the nine-game struggle. The starting rotation is 1-5 in that stretch, posting an 8.82 ERA. The starters have given up 10 home runs while walking 23 and striking out 32 in the past 50 innings.

"It's been a rough road for our starters, but their resumes speak for themselves," said Ausmus. "There are a lot of teams that would like to have them. I feel like [when] one guy has a good game ... the staff will start to roll."

The Tigers aren't worried, so why should anyone else be?

Yes, Scherzer had no-decisions in both starts he made in the past nine games, gave up five runs in six innings Tuesday and 12 runs in 13 innings combined during the two starts. Verlander has gone 0-2 and allowed 14 runs (11 earned) on 22 hits and six walks in 11 1/3 innings. Rick Porcello gave up eight runs in 5 1/3 innings during his start. Robbie Ray gave up seven runs and allowed more base runners (13) than he got outs (10) in his start. Drew Smyly was 0-1 in two starts, allowing nine runs in 10 innings.

Only Anibal Sanchez has been relatively untouched, earning the only victory for a starter in the past nine games, allowing two runs in seven innings.

"You don't forget what these guys have done, and they are still relatively young," said Ausmus.

This is a staff that is more than capable of rolling. When Detroit opened the season 27-12, the rotation was 21-8 with a 2.64 ERA. The starters worked six or more innings in 28 of the 39 games, and they allowed two or fewer runs in 29 of the games, and three or fewer runs in 34 games.

And that's the continuation of a successful run by a staff on which Verlander, at 31, is the greybeard.

In winning the AL Central each of the past three years, the Tigers' rotation was an AL-best 233-155 (.601) and had the third-best ERA (3.76) of any team in the league.

"And it's not just what these guys do in games," said closer Joe Nathan, who worked a perfect ninth for his 12th save -- and first in 11 days. "It's what they do between games to get better, it's knowing how committed they are to be even better than they have been that gives the team so much confidence."

The Tigers have been here before and they have survived. They lost six out of seven at the end of June last year, responded by winning their next five game en route to the division title. In 2012, Detroit lost seven of eight in mid-April, but it still won the AL pennant, losing to San Francisco in the World Series. And in 2011, the Tigers lost seven in a row April 20-May 2, and responded by winning 10 of the next 11 en route to another division title.

"We look at the last week or so [with the rotation] and say, 'It's a fluke,'" said Hunter. "We know these guys are going to be the pitchers they are capable of being.

"I am going to have a spurt where I'm 0-for-15, and I'll have to make adjustments. Scherzer, Verlander and the guys are going to make adjustments, too. They know what it takes to get the job done, because they have done it before."

The Tigers are confident their strong-armed starters will get it done again.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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