"I'm not saying anyone's not hustling or doesn't care, but when you struggle and go through tough periods with injuries, that's just the way it smells," he said. "That's the way it is. You've got to grind [it out]. You've got to care enough to push through all that stuff.
"Nobody's dogging it. I'm very proud of where we're at up to this point. But you can't give into it. Sometimes it's tough. Sometimes a guy is hurting and he's still going out there and self-consciously hopes someone else picks it up for him that day because he's hurting. I don't mean anything negative about that at all."
It didn't help, either, that Scott Kazmir (9-7) was dominant for the Devil Rays. The Tampa Bay left-hander allowed just three hits and struck out seven in six shutout innings.
"He has a really live arm, a live fastball. He's good," Leyland said. "There's a couple of good pitchers and the best outfield in baseball. They're good. They get that pitching going and they'll be real good."
The Devil Rays' outfield certainly was good on Thursday. Left fielder Carl Crawford, center fielder B.J. Upton and right fielder Delmon Young went a combined 7-for-12 with five runs scored and five RBIs.
Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman (10-5) lost his fourth consecutive decision. He struggled again in the first, allowing just one run but leaving the bases loaded. Still, Leyland reiterated his unwavering support for the right-hander.
"It's almost like there's been so much talk about the first inning that he's pitching not to give up a run in the first," Leyland said. "I don't know that. Check with him."
Bonderman, however, declined to meet with reporters after the game.
On the other hand, once the Devil Rays scored in the first, Kazmir made it academic.
"When he throws 95 and throws strike one, you never know what's coming next," said designated hitter Gary Sheffield, who was 1-for-4 in his second game back after missing a week due to shoulder soreness. "He has the cut fastball, and it comes in at 95 and you think it's a good pitch to hit, and the next thing you know, it's by you. When he gets some runs, he gets tough."
The only threat the Tigers made against Kazmir came in the fourth.
Placido Polanco doubled and Sheffield reached on an infield single. Both moved up on a double steal, but Kazmir struck out Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Ordonez and got Ivan Rodriguez to ground out to end the inning.
Crawford hit a two-run homer in the fifth to make it 3-0, and the Devil Rays chased Bonderman with a four-run seventh.
The Tigers got their only run in the bottom of that inning on an RBI single by Omar Infante off reliever Gary Glover.
But the talk afterward was about the team's direction.
"It's all about playing with a sense of urgency," Sheffield said. "You have to play that way all the way from Opening Day to the end of the season. I think we weathered the storm on a lot of injuries. We played well early, and once we got later in the season, guys got fatigued, and that's when you have to be strong mentally. It gets tougher the later it gets."
As long as the slump has continued, Sheffield said it could end quickly.
"All it takes is one big game and everything gets rolling," he said. "Everyone wants to join the party. Hitting is contagious, pitching is contagious, fielding is contagious, and once we start doing all those things together, we'll be OK."