He inherited a team that had been a perennial playoff contender, yet in four years, Brad Ausmus managed the Detroit Tigers to a below .500 record and one playoff appearance.
And in that lone playoff appearance, he completely managed the Tigers out of the postseason in a sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles.
He is a former catcher with an Ivy League education, but in four years, never learned how to manage the bullpen. Now in his defense, the level of awfulness in this year’s bullpen cannot be blamed on him. Nor can the injuries.
This season was not his fault, but past shortcomings were — especially in the postseason.
Tiger fans remember this headscratching series.
In the second game of that 2014 playoff series in Baltimore, he pulled Justin Verlander after allowing a single to start the sixth inning.
At 101 pitches, Verlander could have gone at least the rest of the inning, especially when the bullpen was shaky at best — and so many relievers pitched poorly the day before.
If the bullpen was so bad, and the starters are the best in the league — remember at this point they had four past or future Cy Young Award winners — why do the starters get lifted so quickly? Wouldn’t he rather have Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price on the mound with the game on the line? If there is anything certain about the Tigers, it is the bullpen can’t be trusted with the game on the line. This has been true for many, many years.
Ausmus had one good move in that series against the Orioles, bringing in Anibal Sanchez, the Detroit starter coming back from an injury, in Game 2 in Baltimore. It was quickly erased by a slew of bad moves.
Sanchez threw two scoreless innings of relief and looked fantastic on the mound.
So what did Ausmus do? He took Sanchez out.
Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria each gave up runs in the eighth inning as a two-run lead evaporated.
Those same two relievers got shelled the day before in the first game.
The Tigers bullpen had an earned run average of 27 in the series, which included Sanchez. If you take out Sanchez’s 0.00 ERA, the rest of the bullpen had an ERA of 59.00 in the first two games. Chamberlain was at 108.00 and Soria was at 45.00 for the series against Baltimore, which ended quickly after three games.
So why in the world would Ausmus take Sanchez out so quickly — especially when he had earlier said that Sanchez is fully ready to go and he has full confidence in him in a pressure situation?
He claimed it was because Sanchez threw 30 pitches, near the limit they set for him coming back from the injury.
But it was really because as a first-year manager, he hadn’t figured out how to manage his pitchers. He never mastered that in four years at the helm of the Tigers.
Ausmus brought in two relievers in Game 2 who had blown it the day before. Chamberlain, who started the year off so well, but had a 4.97 ERA after the All-Star break. Meanwhile, in August and September, Al Alburquerque posted a 0.96 ERA and held opponents to a .161 batting average. Why not use him, especially after how Game One went for Chamberlain?
And if a reliever is pitching well, like Sanchez was, why take them out just because it’s the eighth inning? That happened all year in 2014, several times with a quick and unnecessary hook for Alburquerque.
Tigers fans have historically feared the closer blowing key games, which happened in the postseason with Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit and continued with anyone pitching in the ninth inning.
But both games against the Orioles back in 2014 were lost before the closer could get his hands on the ball.
It added up to a manager who is unsure what to do with his pitching staff when the pressure is on.
That never got better in four years and that is why Ausmus had to go.
He should have gone after that Baltimore series. Unfortunately, that was the highlight season of his tenure as manager of the Tigers.