PITTSBURGH -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland had plenty to lament Saturday night, from another rough sixth inning to an inexplicable four-pitch walk to a relief pitcher at the plate to a rundown that resulted in an insurance run.
In the end, he couldn't get past the same concern he had before Saturday's 6-2 loss to the Pirates. The result didn't argue otherwise.
"We scored two runs again," Leyland said afterwards. "That's obviously a problem for us."
Before the game, after Leyland talked about all other topics, he came back to two main concerns: He had to get his key hitters producing again, and he had to get Joaquin Benoit back in form to put his bullpen back in order. The Benoit issue is going to take longer than a weekend. The Tigers can't survive long with a relatively dormant offense.
They came close to the big hit Saturday. Austin Jackson hit the kind of drive to the warning track in straightaway center that required an Austin Jackson-like effort for a center fielder to run down with two outs and two on in the seventh. But Andrew McCutchen is that kind of center fielder, and he made it look a lot easier than it actually was to keep the Pirates ahead.
"He's going to catch that ball every time with his speed," Leyland said.
The Pirates scored three more runs in their half of the seventh to take a 6-2 lead, but even after the add-on runs, three straight singles from the bottom half of the order brought the potential tying run to the plate in the ninth with nobody out and closer Joel Hanrahan looking for a pitch. But a called third strike off the outside corner sent Ryan Raburn back to the dugout, and a hard-hit ground ball from Jackson turned into a game-ending double play and an end to Jackson's career-best 12-game hitting streak.
Not only did consecutive doubles from Andy Dirks, Miguel Cabrera and Brennan Boesch in the fourth produce Detroit's only runs, they accounted for all the extra-base hits.
"I thought maybe we were going to get something going there," Leyland said. "We got three doubles in that one inning, got a couple runs. But we're obviously putting our starters under a lot of pressure because we're not getting runs to give them some breathing room."
It's far from the only concern for the Tigers during this five-game losing streak. Their bullpen appears to be showing more than simple rust from lack of work during the Tigers' dominant run of starting pitching before this weekend. Now that they've gone back-to-back nights without getting their starter through the sixth, the bullpen questions have had more time on display. They've had a couple defensive plays come back to haunt them in the series, from a missed chance at a double play Friday to the aforementioned rundown that allowed the Pirates to sneak in a runner from third.
When teams aren't hitting, those problems become magnified. So do mistake pitches. As a result, though this was far from Max Scherzer's worst outing of the year, it was his first loss, and the first time he had to truly go back to his standard line.
"I wish I would've executed better," said Scherzer (6-1), who missed out on a chance to become the first Tigers starter with a 7-0 record by the end of May since 1939.
For the Tigers, it was their fifth loss in a row, and it dropped them back below .500.
"Every inning is life or death, really, right now, because we're not swinging the bats and scoring runs," Leyland said.
For a while, Scherzer actually seemed to thrive on that. Once Detroit scored, Scherzer provided a shutdown early, overpowering Neil Walker and Lyle Overbay on 94 mph fastballs. He struck out the bottom third of Pittsburgh's lineup in order in the fifth inning, spotting fastballs on Brandon Wood and Ronny Cedeno.
He seemed set to do the same in the sixth, putting McCutchen in an 0-2 hole before he got a slider and laced a ground ball through the left side for his second leadoff single. Another 0-2 count became a Jose Tabata single on a 1-2 fastball he centered.
"I [had] two strikes on the first two batters there and I didn't execute," Scherzer said. "I didn't finish them off. I gave them a chance to get a hit, and they got the hit."
He never got the chance with Garrett Jones, who had taken first-pitch fastballs for strikes in his first two at-bats. Jones got a first-pitch changeup the third time, but he waited long enough to line into the right-field corner for an RBI double.
Overbay got out of an 0-2 count to line another sac fly to right, putting Pittsburgh ahead. Scherzer couldn't pitch for the strikeout in that situation, but was looking for better.
Ryan Perry finished out that inning and waited through the Tigers' potential rally in the top of the seventh. But once he came out for the bottom of the inning to see reliever Jose Veras at the plate for the first time in his big league career, he flinched, throwing four pitches that weren't particularly close to the strike zone.
"That was the first pitcher I've thrown to," Perry said, "and it definitely threw me for a loop."
He found the strike zone from there, but for back-to-back singles. Leyland went to Daniel Schlereth against Jones, but Pirates manager Clint Hurdle countered with pinch-hitter Matt Diaz, who hit a two-run single.
"It was a little bit [of a] disaster, the add-on runs," Leyland said. "You feel like at 3-2 after six, it's still anybody's game. And we still had a shot at the end. But we scored two runs again."