DETROIT -- For the second straight season, the Mariners have swept a three-game series at Comerica Park in the final week of April. The Tigers are hoping it doesn't carry over into a second straight April skid.
Their April shakeup is already here.
Though the Tigers' move to release Brandon Inge on Thursday had seemingly little to do with the 5-4 loss, a game in which Inge didn't play, their larger struggles seemingly set it up, from a logjam at second base in which nobody was standing out to a lineup in need of a spark but without an obvious spot for it.
Though Miguel Cabrera's game-tying two-run homer gave the Tigers new life against the Mariners on Thursday, it couldn't spark Detroit out of its funk, now at six losses in a seven-game stretch. Combine those struggles with Thursday's move, parting ways with the longest-tenured current Tiger, and the team left town for New York and a three-game series with the Yankees in a somber mood as one player after another hugged Inge on their way out of the clubhouse.
Not since Detroit's winless homestand to start the 2008 season have the Tigers lost six games in a seven-game home stretch like they did over the past week. Not in a longer stretch than that had they had to deal with this type of move.
They called up hot-hitting Brad Eldred for this weekend's American League Division Series rematch with the Yankees looking for a spark. They bid farewell to Inge looking back on a long Tigers career.
"I'm sure the way we're playing had something to do with it," teammate Alex Avila said. "I mean, that's just part of the business of the game. It sucks at times. I've known Brandon for almost 10 years now. It's tough. It's part of the game that's really hard."
In all fairness, there was an urgency building in the Tigers' clubhouse before Thursday's defeat. The loss put them in the position of counting on Justin Verlander as a streak stopper, as he was last Saturday in his previous start. He owns the club's only win since it returned home from Kansas City last week.
He didn't want to put too much stress on an April series, but beyond the results, it was the overall play that concerned him.
"We're just in a little bit of a rut," Verlander said Thursday morning. "It seems like everything's going the other guys' way and not our way. That's just kind of what ends up happening when things aren't going right, it really doesn't go right.
"We've been playing [poorly], so it's time to turn it around. We can't sit here and do this all year. We're not just going to fall into the division championship. It doesn't happen that way. We've got to start playing some baseball."
Avila's pinch-hit walk in the seventh inning put runners at the corners with one out, including the potential tying run at third, before reliever Lucas Luetge escaped with back-to-back ground-ball outs. A pair of ninth-inning singles put runners at first and second again and brought life to a Thursday afternoon crowd before Mariners closer Brandon League abruptly ended it with a double-play from Avila.
Detroit went 3-for-7 with runners in scoring position, and held the Mariners to a 1-for-6 performance in the same category. They picked up a leadoff triple from Andy Dirks, back from a week lost to strained left hamstring, and an RBI single from slumping Brennan Boesch ahead of Cabrera's sixth homer of the season. They got two hits out of Don Kelly, starting in center field to give Austin Jackson a day off, and two hits and the first RBI of the season from Raburn, who had been 4-for-44 entering the day.
They still didn't get enough for a win in a game they never led. Once Cabrera's homer tied it at 4, an opportunistic Seattle offense made Rick Porcello, who gave up a three-run homer in the first and a solo shot in the fourth, pay for a two-out walk to ninth hitter Brendan Ryan that extended the top of the seventh for Chone Figgins' third hit of the day.
Figgins' drive to the right-field power alley cleared Boesch and traveled into the gap as Ryan took off around third base, saddling Porcello with five runs on seven hits over 6 2/3 innings.
"Those combinations are really biting us in the fanny right now," manager Jim Leyland said. "We're not getting big hits late in the game. We're not making plays. We're not pitching real good. We're not managing good enough. We're not coaching good enough. We're all involved in this together. That's just the way it is. You've just got to get aggressive and take charge and get after somebody."
Adding Eldred won't solve all of those problems, or maybe any of them. Replacing Will Rhymes with Scott Sizemore didn't do much for them a year ago, either. But in both cases, the moves indicate some urgency.
The start of the season is over. The heart of the season has begun.
"It's way too early," Verlander said, "but we've got to start winning some ballgames."