NOT SO FAST…

By:  Holly Horning

I sat down to write my Sunday blog, today, on Saturday afternoon. Topic was selected, ideas in place and a Tiger game on TV. What’s not to like?

But then the fourth inning happened and I realized that I had to change my topic. With the score currently 11 – 2 in favor of the White Sox, I am writing more than I am watching at this point. That’s not how my afternoon was supposed to go!

So far, we Tiger fans have had few complaints this season. We are seeing stellar shut-down pitching, exciting defense, speed that leads the majors and offense-by-committee, instead of just the usual suspects. We even have what appears to be a bona-fide closer not named Joe Nathan.

But today was the first game of the year that didn’t go according to plan. Anibal Sanchez didn’t have his stuff and it was pretty clear to most of the fans by the beginning of the third inning. However, a game that was a salvageable one at 4-1 became a blowout early in the fourth because Brad left his starter in despite the fact he was clearly getting the stuffing knocked out of him. Now the game is currently 12-2 and the odds do not favor a Tiger comeback at this point.

So one has to wonder about a manager who leaves an ineffective pitcher in the game, who is giving out home runs like candy on Halloween and has now loaded the bases. We were all correct in anticipating where that next hit ball would go. Unfortunately.

With the final score 12 – 3, the Tigers could have kept this game in reach if Brad had reacted earlier than he did. Had the team scored one more run, this loss could have been put squarely at his feet. He should have known when to pull his pitcher given all the warning signs and well before the bases became loaded with no outs.

The first loss of the season also involved the same scenario. Same pitcher and manager making the same decision to leave him in when it was apparent that he was done. And this is where I become concerned.

Despite the fact that the Tigers appear to be a better and stronger team this year with more tools in their arsenal, we also need to consider that sixth tool – the manager. It’s easier to win when you have the talent this team has but when the Tigers are being limited by the other team, they need other ways of getting it done. And this is where the manager comes in to hopefully offer that extra edge. We saw how effective Buck Showalter was in the 2014 playoffs to handcuff the Tigers with his “checkmate” move.

Last year, Ausmus had the habit of either taking pitchers out too early, too late or repeatedly inserting pitchers who came with their own bomb squad. This year, both losses have involved the failure of the manager to recognize when to replace pitching.

So has Brad learned how to handle pitchers since last year? Right now, I’d have to say “no.” It appears he has no instinct for how long his starters should pitch or which relievers to use. How he handles Joe Nathan’s return will be very telling.

But while Ausmus has shown some growth as a manager, this final component is crucial. If he can’t perfect his managerial instinct when it comes to pitching, it will come back to bite the team if and when they make it into October.