Real or not? K-Rod done as Tigers closer, Giants just look done

AP Photo/Ben Margot

These are the ones that hurt the most, a reminder that, yes, a defeat early in the season means exactly the same as a defeat in late September. For the Detroit Tigers, underdogs to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central, Sunday's walk-off loss to the A's followed Saturday's walk-off loss, with Francisco Rodriguez blowing ninth-inning leads in both games. It's now a familiar story in Detroit: a full-blown bullpen crisis.

On Sunday, having already blown a 6-5 lead thanks to a leadoff walk and Jed Lowrie RBI double, K-Rod tried to sneak a 1-0, 89 mph fastball past Ryon Healy, who crushed the game-winning home run. On Saturday, the Tigers led 5-4 with two outs and nobody on when a walk, a double and then a two-run single by Adam Rosales sent Rodriguez and the Tigers to the showers with a loss. That's already four blown saves for Rodriguez, but all blown saves aren't created equal. His four blown saves were also all defeats on his ledger. He's 1-4 with an 8.49 ERA and 24 baserunners allowed in just 11 2/3 innings, including four home runs.

In his postgame media session, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, "We're going to have a discussion" about the closer role. That might be news to Rodriguez:

There shouldn't be a discussion. Ausmus can't keep losing games as Rodriguez torpedoes the Tigers' season. K-Rod has lived on the edge for years, succeeding with that motion that is all arms and legs, hoping there is enough deception in the delivery and the changeup to offset his declining fastball velocity. But when you're throwing 89 mph fastballs and 86 mph changeups, there isn't enough of a difference in velocity to keep hitters off-balance. You have to be precise with location, and that's never been K-Rod's strength.

Of course, removing Rodriguez from the closer's role and inserting Justin Wilson -- the Tigers' best reliever so far with 22 strikeouts and four walks in 13 2/3 innings -- only opens another hole in the setup role. Maybe Shane Greene can step into that role. He struggled as a starter in 2015 and posted a 5.82 ERA in 2016, but his peripherals were solid -- fewer hits than innings, a 59-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 60 innings and just three home runs allowed. His fastball plays up at 94-95 mph in relief, and his sometimes shaky control is less of an issue in shorter stints.

Aside from that, however, the Detroit bullpen remains a mess, yet again. Former closer-of-the-future Bruce Rondon was sent back to the minors after allowing six runs in 1 1/3 innings. Current closer-of-the-future Joe Jimenez was called up, served up two home runs in five appearances and was sent back down.

Ausmus needs to get this figured out now, because this Detroit team isn't strong enough to carry a weak pen like it has in some years. Jordan Zimmermann looks terrible, and Daniel Norris continues to struggle with control and high pitch counts. So, sure, have a discussion, but I suspect Ausmus will be handing the ball to someone besides K-Rod the next time the Tigers lead in the ninth inning.

Big Red Machine. The other big result from the weekend was the Reds dismantling the Giants by scores of 13-3, 14-2 and then 4-0 on Sunday behind Scott Feldman's four-hit, 119-pitch shutout. It was the first shutout by a Reds pitcher at home since Johnny Cueto in April 2014. Right now, the Reds are hitting, pitching and playing defense, and they are leading the National League Central.

No surprise, but Joey Votto has been at the center of the offense of late. Maybe he's kicking into gear earlier in the season than he did the past two years, when he had monster second halves. Over his past 19 games, he's hitting .349/.482/.714, and he's hit .391 with a .571 OBP as the Reds have won seven of eight games. He's getting more support this season. A more disciplined Eugenio Suarez is hitting .330/.413/.613 with seven home runs, Zack Cozart isn't hitting like Zack Cozart, and the dynamic duo of Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler have each hit nine home runs. It's a good offense, and while the pitching isn't likely to last all season, it's been a fun ride.

As for the Giants, you can't sugarcoat this start. They look like the worst team in baseball. It's not just the 11-21 record. They've been outscored by 63 runs; the only team that's even close to that figure is that Padres at minus-50.

The series was bad enough, but then this happened:

The optimists will say there's too much talent here to be this bad, and that's probably true. The pessimists will point out the Giants haven't played well since last year's All-Star break. Since beginning the second half of 2016 with six losses in a row, the Giants are 41-63. Maybe they're just not all that good.

Quick thoughts ... I'm with Buster Olney: Matt Harvey's career is at a crossroads. Even with their injuries in the rotation, I wouldn't be surprised if the Mets trade him in July. ... Another late loss for the Rangers as Kyle Seager homered off Sam Dyson in the eighth inning for a 4-3 win for the Mariners. The Rangers now have five losses in games they led by three or more runs, tied for most in MLB with the Rays. ... I didn't quite get why Tommy Pham didn't make the Cardinals' Opening Day roster. He's up now, has homered three times in three days, including two on Sunday as part of a four-hit game, including this winner in the 14th inning. ... Love this video of Jayson Werth's home run at his old stomping grounds in Philly. Make sure to notice Max Scherzer's "boos" back at Phillies fans. ... The Phillies got the last laugh, however, winning in 10 innings as they scored five runs off the lousy Nationals bullpen. Pitcher Vince Velasquez contributed to the winning rally with a pinch-hit bunt single. ... Welcome back, Chris Tillman. He tossed five scoreless frames in his season debut as the Orioles blanked the White Sox 4-0.