Tigers manager Jim Leyland wants to talk about his team's run of starting pitching lately. He certainly wanted to discuss Jeremy Bonderman's dominance Tuesday night, or Francisco Cruceta's nasty splitter, or give some confidence to his relief corps after the game-tying and game-winning runs scored in the eighth and ninth, respectively. However, he can't help but come back to the offense.
After Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Angels, it was the giant presence in the clubhouse again. Leyland's running out of things to say about his lineup's struggles, but he can't get past them -- at least until his club does.
"We got three hits tonight," Leyland said. "Everybody will talk about Bonderman and Cruceta, and obviously you have a good chance to stop it and still win the game. But the fact of the matter is, you're not going to win many games with three hits. That just doesn't work."
Certainly, Angels starter Ervin Santana had plenty to do with that. His recovery from Miguel Cabrera's two-run homer to face the minimum 24 hitters the rest of the way on one hit ended up being as much a difference in the game as the game-tying single from Garret Anderson in the eighth, or the game-winning hit from Gary Matthews Jr. in the ninth.
It's the pattern of it, not simply this particular night, that gets to Leyland.
"We're just not getting anything going offensively," Leyland said. "That's as simple as it is. This club's supposed to hit. We haven't hit. We can talk all we want about other things, but the fact of the matter is, this club's supposed to be an offensive club, and we haven't hit. That's the way it is. We seem to be talking about this about five out of seven days a week, about the offense, or lack of it."
It has been a topic for each of the last three days. The Tigers are now 1-28 when they score less than five runs in a game, which is nothing new this season. The more disconcerting breakdown is by runs allowed.
Though this was the first time all year the Tigers lost when leading after seven innings, they fell to 1-3 when allowing exactly three runs in a game this season. Nine of their 21 wins have come when allowing one or two runs. They're just 10-9 when they get a quality start and 13-18 when the starting pitcher works at least six innings. The glaring record is their 4-8 mark in one-run games.
Yet Detroit was just four outs away from its first shutout of the season. It was a reminder of the promise Bonderman still has as a pitcher in his sixth Major League season at age 25, before it became another exhibit in the way a season of team-wide promise hasn't gone as hoped.
"We know we can score more runs," Cabrera said. "The last couple nights, the pitchers have done the job [for Detroit]. We need to step up, do what we do."
Bonderman not only sent down the first 12 batters he faced in order before Anderson's leadoff single in the fifth, he retired the Angels efficiently and aggressively through his first seven innings. Working hitters inside and out with fastballs before setting them up for sliders, Bonderman didn't reach a three-ball count until Casey Kotchman's one-out single in the fifth, and his lone walk came when he lost his fastball high to Maicer Izturis with one out in the sixth.
Brandon Inge, playing third base in place of Carlos Guillen, helped thwart the fifth-inning threat when he fielded Ivan Rodriguez's throw on a hope to nab Anderson trying to steal third base before snaring a hard line drive from Jeff Mathis for the final out. Bonderman took care of the sixth when he caught Vladimir Guerrero looking at a slider on the corner for a called third strike, capping a well-pitched at-bat. Curtis Granderson crashed into the center-field fence for a leaping catch in the seventh.
Everything was working in tune. Yet with Santana shutting down Detroit's offense after Cabrera's eighth home run of the year, the pressure never waned.
"He was tremendous," Leyland said of Bonderman.
After back-to-back singles in the eighth, however, it was the closeness of the game in part that prompted Leyland to take Bonderman out with just 83 pitches thrown. Izturis sacrificed Sean Rodriguez and Reggie Willits to second and third, respectively, with the heart of the Angels order coming up to face Bonderman for what would've been the fourth time.
"I thought he still had some left in the tank," Leyland said, "but [Cruceta] has a wipeout pitch. Matthews is 6-for-16 off of him. To me, that's a no-brainer. You're looking for hopefully a strikeout in that situation, and you felt like Cruceta could get it, which he did."
Indeed, Cruceta's splitter sent Matthews swinging into a hole before he spotted a called third strike for the second out. That brought up Guerrero, whom Cruceta fell behind before losing a splitter in the dirt for a run-scoring wild pitch.
With a one-run lead, Cruceta couldn't get the third strike on Guerrero, losing him to a walk. That brought up Anderson, who lined a second-pitch fastball to right to tie it.
Santana (7-2) quickly retired the side in order in the top of the ninth, sending the Tigers back into the field to try to send it into extra innings. Aquilino Lopez was an out away from doing that before back-to-back walks put the winning run in scoring position for Matthews' liner to right-center.
"One of the guys that's your best strike-thrower walks two guys with two outs and nobody on," Leyland said, noting the irony.
Even then, though, Leyland came back to the crux of the game.
"But all those issues are magnified because of the fact that we got three hits," Leyland said, "and we're not swinging the bats. We had two runs on one swing of the bat and back-to-back hits. We played a lot of innings without getting a hit. And we've done that a lot."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.