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Star-laden Tigers trying to find footing after month of dismal baseball

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DETROIT - Less than three months into his first season as manager, Detroit's Brad Ausmus has already experienced his share of highs and lows.

After a 27-12 start, he was hailed as a sharp young leader, exactly the man the Tigers needed after Jim Leyland stepped down. Then Ausmus' high-priced team fell into a slump, falling out of first place as its starting pitching went from excellent to poor seemingly without warning.

"Regardless of how good your team is or what the payroll is, or how low the payroll is, it's going to be a battle," Ausmus said. "Baseball has that peak and valley."

On Wednesday, after Detroit lost to Kansas City, Ausmus was asked a question about how his mood is when he heads home after these tough defeats.

"I beat my wife," Ausmus said sarcastically. "I'm just kidding around. No, luckily my wife and kids are fantastic. I do get a little mopey at home, but my wife and kids are good."

About a minute later, without being prompted, Ausmus apologized, and on Thursday he again said he was sorry.

"I wasn't trying to trivialize or marginalize domestic abuse, or minimize how awful a thing it is, and I'm sorry," he said. "I wasn't trying to hurt anyone, I certainly wasn't trying to offend anyone, and if I did, I really am honestly sorry for that, because that's not what I was trying to do."

Ausmus said he realized as soon as the words left his mouth that his remarks were insensitive and in poor taste.

"I didn't sleep well," the 45-year-old manager said. "I obviously talked to my wife and daughters about it, because my daughters are on Twitter and all that, so they see it."

It was an unwanted incident for a team that has recently looked nothing like the group that won three straight division titles before Leyland stepped down after last season. Ausmus has done his best to remain calm. The Tigers beat Kansas City 2-1 on Thursday, pulling within a half-game of the first-place Royals in the AL Central.

Ausmus rejected the idea that his comments were a sign that his team's poor play is getting to him.

"I'm not happy with the losing, for sure, but I wouldn't make any connection between my poor judgment and words yesterday — I wouldn't make any connection between that and the losing," Ausmus said.

What's perplexing about Detroit's struggles is that they can be blamed in large part on the starting rotation and its Cy Young winners.

Justin Verlander is 2-5 with a 7.83 ERA in his last seven starts, and Max Scherzer is 2-2 with a 6.86 ERA over his last six. The Tigers should be able to snap out of their funk if those two start pitching like they have in the past — but there's no way to tell for sure when that might happen.

"You don't give up, and you can't worry too long about the bad outings," Verlander said after his loss to the Royals on Monday. "You have to keep your eye on the bigger picture, and that means coming in here (Tuesday) and working on fixing what is going wrong."

Ausmus, a former catcher, has tried to help Verlander and pitching coach Jeff Jones solve the right-hander's problems.

"All three of us looked at video together," Ausmus said. "As a catcher, I've seen pitchers go through those types of things mechanically, I understand what's being talked about, what can go wrong, so yeah, I am actively joining those two."

Scherzer's performance may be even more puzzling. He threw a shutout two starts ago, then returned to the mound and allowed 10 runs against the Royals on Tuesday.

"I think Max just made some bad pitches," Jones said. "He's coming off a shutout of the White Sox, cruised through the first inning, and he just made some bad pitches and they made him pay for it."

Ausmus is trying to avoid being alarmist, so don't expect too many drastic changes. He believes the Tigers have too much talent to keep playing this way.

"I know I'm new to the managerial job, but I've been in the clubhouse for decades," Ausmus said. "A panicky manager does not go over well."

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