OAKLAND, Calif. — For the Tigers, Saturday marked a return to normalcy of sorts, with manager Brad Ausmus back in the dugout after missing two games for family reasons after the death of his mother and the graduation of his daughter.Unfortunately for Ausmus, the game marked a return to the normal airing of grievances that his team’s fan base has piled upon him almost since his arrival in Detroit three years ago. While much of what has ailed the Tigers this season and last can hardly be pinned entirely on Ausmus, what happened here at Oakla
nd Alameda Coliseum in a 12-3 thrashing certainly can. MORE: All managers ranked as playersIn a game in which the Tigers' bats livened up enough to tie, 3-3, in the top of the sixth, the bottom of the sixth saw manager-induced disaster. Ausmus pulled starter Matt Boyd, who made a nice showing in his first start filling in for injured Jordan Zimmerman, and inserted reliever Warwick Saupold. Ausmus watched as Saupold allowed a single, a double, two more singles and another double. Only when A’s No. 9 hitter Jake Smolinski rocketed a sacrifice fly to right did Ausmus finally peel himself off the dugout bench and give Saupold the hook. Ausmus shrugged off the decision after the game, calling it “just an off-day for the bullpen.” He managed as if he were more concerned with Sunday’s game all along, hoping to keep his best bullpen arms ready for the rubber match.“Once you’re trailing,” Ausmus said, “you don’t want to burn one of your back-end guys.”But the Tigers were not trailing by so much when it was clear Saupold was not fooling the A’s, and Ausmus could have pulled him a lot quicker. To be fair, Saupold was not alone in his struggle — Alex Wilson also yielded four runs, and the struggling Oakland offense was due for a breakout game. But the inaction on Saupold crystallizes the complaints that have come during Ausmus’ tenure. This dud also crystallizes the problem with the Tigers and their many identities. They’ve not settled on one, looking like a first-place team at times and an over-the-hill candidate for demolition at others.MORE: Five players who could be traded before JulyBefore Saturday, the Tigers had pulled themselves from the misery of mid-May, when a 1-11 slump dropped them 8 1/2 games out of first place and had Ausmus lingering near the top of the list of candidates for first manager fired. It was on May 16 that a frustrated Ausmus went on his much-viewed and awe-inspiring tirade directed at umpire Doug Eddings, in which he tore off his sweatshirt and used it to cover home plate. His Tigers rallied after that, winning nine of 11 and moving back into the thick of the four-team scrum at the top of the A.L. Central.Much has improved. In the 11 games before Saturday’s drubbing, the Tigers had hit .316 with 21 home runs and averaged 5.9 runs per game. Cameron Maybin had a 10-game hitting streak (snapped Saturday), Miguel Cabrera has returned to run-producing form and even the much-maligned Justin Upton has been better, if only slightly. Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos, meanwhile, have been consistent at the top of the lineup.The pitching had stabilized, too, the staff combining on a 3.73 ERA and allowing just a .238 average to opposing batters. The loss of Zimmerman is difficult, but his should not be an extended absence. Would-be ace Justin Verlander has strung together four straight good starts, and rookie Michael Fulmer is 4-1, having allowed just one run in his past 14 2/3 innings.As good as the Tigers were in that stretch, they’ve remained a difficult team to pin down, and that’s going to keep Ausmus in a precarious position, just a losing streak away from another round of speculation about his job security. General manager Al Avila — whose job may not be so safe either — has backed Ausmus, and it’s unlikely that, barring a total collapse, the Tigers will give in to the whims of vocal fans who want a new manager before this season ends.But games like this one in Oakland give them plenty of ammunition.