DETROIT -- The Tigers couldn't have liked their chances at beating Felix Hernandez when they took him to a full count with the bases loaded in the opening inning and got nothing out of it.
They really didn't like their chances after the Mariners loaded the bases and promptly emptied them in the next inning.
But then, they haven't been liking the way things have been going well before Wednesday's 9-1 loss to the Mariners. Now, after their fifth loss in six games, they need Rick Porcello to be a stopper on Thursday, not only to avoid what could be a second April series sweep by the Mariners at Comerica Park in two years, but to save a bullpen that has pitched 11 innings the last two nights.
"People are just beating up on us right now, and enjoying it," manager Jim Leyland said afterwards. "I'm sure we'll get tired of that at some point."
He did not get tired of that phrase. He referred to teams beating up on them four more times in his postgame interview. It was a telling phrase for somebody who has historically played down the importance of a good start out of the gate in favor of the long season.
But he's the same manager who told more than a thousand people, including his players, at the Detroit Economic Club earlier in the day that he believes his team needs a mean streak if they're going to win it all and fulfill their lofty expectations, as they are a team that opponents are targeting.
"Right now, people are kind of beating up on us, and enjoying it," he said. "We just have to do quite a few things better right now, to be honest with you."
For this homestand, it's an all-around funk. For this game, it was mainly on the mound.
Detroit's offense has scored more than three runs off a starting pitcher only once since April 8, and that was their four runs off of Jason Vargas in Tuesday's series opener. With King Felix on the mound -- a pitcher who has allowed more than three runs only once in 11 career outings against the Tigers -- that wasn't likely to change, though Detroit did have chances.
To beat King Felix for the first time in six years, they needed strong pitching on their side, starting with Adam Wilk. That chance was gone soon after their chance to hit Hernandez.
Both starters threw 28 pitches in their opening inning and put three runners on base. Wilk gave up three singles and allowed the leadoff runner to score, a common theme for the Mariners all series. Hernandez walked the bases loaded, and reached a full count on Alex Avila before escaping with a groundout.
"A guy like him, it seems like every time we face him, we have to be able to get him early and take advantage of those opportunities when he makes mistakes," Avila said. "And if you don't, normally he gets stronger as the game goes on, and that's exactly what he did."
That was pretty much the game. Once Wilk gave up four straight baserunners to open the second inning, three of them at the bottom of the order, the Tigers' best chance at avoiding defeat was the line of showers nearing Detroit at the time. Once the rain turned south, so did the game.
Three of those aforementioned Mariners scored to break open Seattle's lead. Alex Liddi's two-run homer an inning later built up a 6-0 Tigers deficit and chased Wilk from the game with nobody out.
Detroit optioned Wilk to Triple-A Toledo once the game ended to open a roster spot for the bullpen. Brayan Villarreal will be called up from the Mud Hens to try to help a bullpen that has had to cover 11 innings the last two nights and 27 innings since Saturday.
"We're just getting beat up on," Leyland repeated. "I mean, it's obvious what's going on right now. There's no secret to it. But it is a long season. You don't like it to happen at any point, but right now, they're beating up on us pretty good.
"Three of our last five starts have not been good, and we've been in the bullpen. That's not good when you're in the bullpen first, second inning, third inning three out of five nights. That's not healthy for your bullpen. But it's always combinations."
Once the pitching fell apart, the offense had little chance. After nearly blowing a six-run lead three starts ago, Hernandez wasn't going to mess around with this one after Brennan Boesch's third-inning leadoff homer put Detroit on the scoreboard.
Hernandez (2-1) faced the minimum 15 batters over his final five innings following Boesch's blast. He erased a pair of leadoff infield singles with double plays from the following batter.
"It's not a good lineup to get behind in the count," Hernandez. "I think it's better to get lucky than good. And that's what happened today."