Things have gone from bad to worse for a Detroit Tigers team expected by many to win the AL Central. The injuries are mounting, as are the losses - even against seemingly inferior competition.
The Tigers hope to avoid further embarrassment at home in Thursday's series finale with the major league-worst Minnesota Twins, who are trying to win consecutive games for just the second time all season.
Prior to Wednesday's two-game series opener against Minnesota (11-26), Detroit manager Jim Leyland announced closer Jose Valverde is day to day with a strained lower back. Leadoff hitter Austin Jackson joined Valverde with a day-to-day injury of his own after leaving Wednesday's 11-7 loss with a mild abdominal strain.
Jackson is batting .331 with five home runs and team highs of 10 doubles and 29 runs scored, while playing his usual solid defense in center field.
Infield defense proved Detroit's downfall in Wednesday's defeat, as the team committed four errors - one by each of the infielders. It overshadowed a strong game by the offense, as the Tigers (18-19) lost for the first time in eight games this season when scoring at least seven runs.
"You score seven runs, you have to win the game,'' Leyland said. "If you don't, you have problems.''
Detroit has plenty of problems. The Tigers are 9-16 since their 9-3 start, and have fallen three games behind first-place Cleveland.
"I don't think anyone is pressing," first baseman Prince Fielder said. "That's what people always say when you are losing, but we're playing the same."
Fielder and Miguel Cabrera are both doing their best to get Detroit out of its slump. Fielder is batting .583 with three doubles and four RBIs in his last three games, while Cabrera is 10 for 20 with six RBIs in his last four.
The duo will try to continue its hot hitting and give scheduled starter Doug Fister (0-1, 0.54 ERA) some rare offensive support.
In two starts since returning from a left rib strain suffered in his April 7 season debut, Fister has yielded one run over 13 innings but has been backed by two total runs of support and the Tigers lost both times. The right-hander allowed one run and five hits Saturday while striking out eight in six innings of a 3-1 loss to Oakland.
Fister made one start against the Twins last season while with Detroit, permitting three hits over seven scoreless innings of a 2-1 victory on Sept. 11.
Minnesota has plated an AL-low 131 runs, but erupted for a season high Wednesday. Brian Dozier hit a three-run homer and the Twins pounded out 14 hits to win at Comerica Park for just the fourth time in 18 games.
Justin Morneau went 1 for 5 with a double in his first game back from a left wrist injury that landed him on the disabled list. He's 3 for 6 with a double lifetime off Fister, while Joe Mauer is hitless in 10 career at-bats against him.
The Twins, who last won back-to-back games April 11 and 12, counter with P.J. Walters (0-1, 3.00).
Recalled from the minors last Thursday to take the rotation spot of Francisco Liriano, Walters gave up one run - on a homer to Jose Bautista - and six hits in six innings of Saturday's 2-1 loss to Toronto. The right-hander struck out five and walked none in his fifth major league start, and first since 2010.
Walters made a relief appearance against Detroit for St. Louis in 2009, allowing a solo homer to Cabrera and one other hit in two innings.