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 Still more encouragement!

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PostSubject: Still more encouragement!   Thu Apr 03, 2008 7:50 am

According to Tigers' plan? Not quite
It's only been a couple of games, but losses to Royals frustrating for team with high expectations.

Tom Gage / The Detroit News
DETROIT -- Maybe, like a hacking cough, it was the kind of raspy game the Tigers needed to purge from their system sooner or later.

Just so happened to be sooner.

Or maybe it was an example of what can happen even to powerful lineups, a case of facing an up-and-coming pitcher throwing a lights-out game.

Whatever Wednesday's game was, though, and whatever the reason it ended up as a 4-0 victory for the Kansas City Royals behind seven outstanding innings from Brian Bannister, this wasn't the way anyone envisioned the 2008 Tigers' season beginning.

That's not to say, in four games, they can't be 2-2. That's not to say in six games, they can't even be 4-2. This is probably not a trend. This is probably not a slump. This, along with the Opening Day loss, is probably just a blip on an otherwise promising screen.

Notice, however, the use of "probably."

It's what the Tigers have earned with their two losses so far: to be treated with probably. They've not played especially badly. They've just not done enough things well against a K.C. team history would have pegged as being more likely to lose the first two rather than win them.

So you had that record Opening Day crowd grumbling on Monday that the Tigers had let a 3-0 lead behind Justin Verlander slip away, a lead that should have been a run or two more substantial.

And on Wednesday, you had an even more noteworthy crowd, the largest second-day crowd in Detroit since at least 1951, waiting for the rebound -- only to witness a dud.

Kenny Rogers pitched well. That wasn't the problem. "I'll take outings like that all year long," said manager Jim Leyland.

In fact, the way he pitched wasn't just auspicious for a 43-year old, who once was a teammate of Bannister's father, Floyd. If you could guarantee today's 25-year old starter Jeremy Bonderman the same line, two runs on five hits and one walk in six innings, he'd probably take it, no questions asked.

"I felt good with what I had," said Rogers, "but (Bannister) outpitched me by far."

The problem also wasn't the bullpen, although Zach Miner allowed two runs in two innings. Besides, that's going to be an overworked storyline if, every time a relief pitcher gives up a run or two, the entire bullpen gets raked over the coals.

Even before the game, by saying he won't take bullpen questions every day, Leyland set up construction cones to divert traffic from the focus he sees the bullpen would otherwise get.

The problem Wednesday was the Tigers didn't do anything at the plate, other than Edgar Renteria's three singles. And how weird is that: One guy going 3-for-4, but the rest of the team going 0-for-24?

That's why the prevailing impression is that something simply hasn't clicked so far. The team the Tigers are going to be isn't the team they've been this week.

These are the kind of defeats you would've expected to see in 1998, 10 years ago when the second-day crowd was 13,786 instead of the 32,348 that turned out for this clunker.

The audience is there, and will be there. The fans are excited. The setting was excellent: sunny and 51 at game time, instead of the damp, dingy gray of the opener. This was the day the Tigers were going to bounce back.

Instead they now have to hope today will be the day they'll rebound from the first two losses. They're capable of doing so, but the pieces that haven't fit so far need to start fitting.

For instance, Placido Polanco is a rare 0-for-10. He's not immune to slumps, and he's hit the ball well enough to have three or four hits, but that's like saying the Tigers have pitched well enough to have won a game so far.

Whether they have or haven't, they're 0-2, and whether Polanco has or hasn't, he's 0-for-10 and already is thinking he needs to tweak his swing .

"He's the least of my worries," said Leyland, which is what a manager should say about as fine a hitter as Polanco.

Anyway, that road would lead you nowhere. If you're going to fret about Polanco after two games, you could point out that Gary Sheffield doesn't have a hit yet, either. You could also wake up at 2 a.m. worrying that Miguel Cabrera's home run is his only hit so far.

But you won't because knowledgeable fans that you are, you know it's bound to change.

Like Leyland said toward the end of his postgame spiel Wednesday: "It's only natural for people to get a little excited. There's nothing wrong with that.

"We came home to higher expectations, and we've lost two games. People go, 'Uh-oh.' That's to be expected as long it doesn't happen in here.

"At the same time in here, you can't sit around, look at each other and say, 'We'll come out of it.' There's a way you go about it. You grind it out."

It's the challenge, but also the saving grace, of 162 games. Only two of which have been played.
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