"There's no momentum in baseball," Leyland said. "It's all about your next day's pitcher."
Right now, simply figuring out the next few days' pitchers is becoming a challenge. After Washburn's latest setback, who'll start Sunday for Detroit is a giant question mark.
Where the Tigers will stand in this division race when they get to Sunday's series finale at Minnesota is another question.
Even as the Tigers managed to maintain their somewhat comfortable lead in recent days despite their struggles, Leyland predicted the race would go down to the wire, possibly the final day. Tuesday's Detroit loss coincided with a Minnesota win over Cleveland, whittling the gap between first and second place back to 4 1/2 games for the first time since Sept. 2.
That gap becomes crucial heading into this weekend's three-game series at the Metrodome against the Twins, who might yet be able to overcome the season-ending loss of slugger Justin Morneau. With AL Cy Young Award candidate Zack Greinke pitching Thursday for the Royals against the Tigers, Wednesday's game becomes all the more important, and Detroit is counting on Eddie Bonine to provide a boost.
Bonine took over for injured lefty Nate Robertson, who took over for injured righty Armando Galarraga. Now Washburn's left knee problems after his four-run first inning Tuesday could force the Tigers to at least consider starting Robertson again in his spot.
Meanwhile, though Zach Miner pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Washburn, Leyland had to hold him back so he could be available for the next couple days rather than keep him going. Four more runs off Casey Fien, three on a David DeJesus homer, essentially put the game out of reach.
"We're dealing with ifs and buts instead of candy and nuts," Leyland said.
Washburn (9-9) was questionable for this start until a couple days ago while he underwent more tests on his knee, which has been bothering him for most of the year and which prompted the Tigers to skip him for a turn through the rotation a couple weeks ago. He took a no-decision to the Royals five days ago at Kansas City, but they hit him hard this time with a three-run homer from Alberto Callaspo.
Callaspo's 10th home run of the year made him the last of four straight Royals to reach base safely. Willie Bloomquist doubled with one out in the inning before back-to-back walks to Billy Butler and Miguel Olivo loaded the bases.
Washburn put Callaspo in an 0-2 count but then threw a fastball well off the outside corner that glanced off Alex Avila's glove and rolled toward the backstop. Avila's throw came too late to nab Bloomquist, whose slide toppled Washburn covering home plate.
Washburn's knee wasn't feeling good before then, and that didn't help.
"Obviously Jarrod wasn't feeling real good," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "It was good to see us jump on him in the first inning and take advantage of him not being able to locate very good."
Washburn fell to 1-3 with a 7.33 ERA in eight starts since joining the Tigers via trade from Seattle on July 31. Depending on his knee, that might be how his Tigers tenure ends.
"Right now, I have no guess," Washburn said when asked if he thought he'd pitch again this season. "I don't know why they'd want me to pitch, pitching the way I have. I know I can pitch to a high level if I'm healthy and the knee doesn't hurt. I guess if a miracle happens and we can get the pain out of the knee, or make it at a significantly lower level, then I know I can pitch and get guys out."
As it was, the Tigers couldn't recover Tuesday. Handed a big lead early, Robinson Tejeda (3-1) cruised to his second victory over Detroit in seven days with five innings of two-hit ball over 102 pitches. Carlos Guillen's fifth-inning RBI single accounted for the Tigers' lone run off him.
It wasn't the same dominant performance Tejeda put on last Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium, but it was pretty close. His five strikeouts included a swing and a miss from Miguel Cabrera with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth, two batters after Guillen's single.
"He's got really good stuff," Leyland said. "I didn't think he was as good tonight as he was [in Kansas City], but he's got really good stuff. I thought we actually put a few good swings. We didn't get much out of it, but we put some better swings on."