By: Will Burchfield
There’s only so much Brad Ausmus can do.
That’s the truth inherent and exclusive to his job.
“Baseball’s a tough sport because the manager or head coach is really very dependent on his players. It’s not football where we have a system that we’re running, it’s not basketball where we have plays that we’re running, it’s not hockey where we’re running lines in and out of the game at certain times,” Ausmus said on Tuesday.
“You do most of your preparation in baseball in spring training. From that point on, other than making out the lineup and making occasional pitching changes, you’re really very dependent on the performance of the players,” he added.
Nevertheless, it’s Ausmus who seems to be drawing most of the fans’ ire. With the Tigers nine games under .500 and 6.5 games out of a playoff spot, the fourth-year skipper is back on the hot seat. His team looks like it could use a fire beneath its butt as well, although Ausmus doesn’t think the group’s energy has been lacking.
“Even though we’ve struggled, the clubhouse has always been good, the players have always gotten their work. They play hard. Even when we’re struggling these guys are busting their butt down the line. There’s only certain things that are in your control. I’ve been happy with the way the guys have gone about their business. We haven’t won like we’ve want – that’s disappointing and that falls on me because I’m the manager – but hopefully it turns around today,” said Ausmus.
GM Al Avila cast a vote of confidence for Ausmus toward the end of the Tigers’ recent road trip, over which they finished 1-7.
“A lot of things that have gone on are, quite frankly, not his doing. I think some of that (anger) is really misplaced. I think it’s more frustration. I’m frustrated. We’re not happy. It’s just frustration, and I think people are lashing out,” Avila told reporters.
Ausmus said on Tuesday that he and Avila have not talked explicitly about his job status this season. (Nor has he talked with owner Chris Ilitch – about anything – since spring training. Avila is the middleman.) The manager is in the final year of a four-year contract after the Tigers picked up his option for the 2017 season.
“Al and I have a very good relationship, we work very well together. It’d be nice enough to not have you guys ask me if I’m on the hot seat or not, (but) I think after three and a half years of being on the hot seat I don’t really concern myself with it,” Ausmus said. “Al knows I’m gonna do my job as long as he wants me to, I’m gonna do it the best I can and hopefully we get things turned around starting today.”
The Tigers are set to open a 10-game home stand on Tuesday night versus the Royals. It’s high time for the team to starting gaining ground in the standings, given the looming threat of a fire sale at the trade deadline. But don’t expect Ausmus to deliver some kind of rousing speech to his veteran ball club.
Fire and brimstone don’t pack the same punch in baseball. And the Tigers, in Ausmus’ eyes, are in need of neither.
“Because of the length of the season and the number of games, unlike football where you can rally the troops once a week, meetings become very mundane and tiresome and often fall on deaf ears if you have them a lot. So in my mind you pick your spots,” said Ausmus. “A lot of times those spots involve lack of effort, lack of concentration, things like that. But in my experience, even as a player, if the effort is there, if the care is there and if the work is getting done, there’s not a lot you can do.
“That’s why they have that saying, ‘You gotta grind through it.’ If people are going about their business the right way, telling them they’re not winning games isn’t gonna make them any better.”
Still, Ausmus agreed that the urgency has increased for the Tigers to turn things around.
“The deeper you get (into the season), the more important it is to start amassing wins. There’s not a lot of panic, but at the same time there comes a point where you gotta produce. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
Meanwhile, the skipper is ignoring the outside scrutiny, much more concerned with the atmosphere within.
“Losing effects your morale. I don’t worry about whether I’m gonna be fired or not, I just don’t. It’s out of my control. I go about my business the same way every single day regardless. Maybe I’ve got thick skin, maybe I’ve gotten thicker skin since I’ve been here, but I can’t control it,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to play a long time in the major leagues, I’ll be fine regardless of what happens.”