DETROIT — A grand slam by J.D. Martinez in the ninth inning gave the Tigers some excitement after a rough start by Justin Verlander and poor relief pitching by Evan Reed. But it was not enough, and the Tigers fell 11–8 in the series opener to the Kansas City Royals.
Verlander has struggled in his last seven starts, and despite his velocity remaining high, his command and one-inning troubles will not go away. And for Verlander, who is used to pitching to near perfection, his performance of late has hardly been glistening.
"Frustration is definitely the word I'm using right now," Verlander said. "You don't give up, and you can't worry too long about the bad outings. You have to keep your eye on the bigger picture, and that means coming in here tomorrow and working on fixing what is going wrong." (h/t Dave Hogg, Fox Sports Detroit)
Amid speculation Verlander needs more recovery time after having offseason surgery to repair his core muscles, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said he would not be skipping Verlander in the rotation.
Ausmus said location is the difference between May 9, when Verlander's ERA stood at 2.67, and now (4.98), but added it doesn't tell the entire story. "When you're not commanding the ball down in the zone, it's one thing to hit the plate on the corners, but when you're not commanding the ball down in the zone that's when it gets hit," Ausmus said. "It's more the balls that are up-middle and up-middle-away that end up getting hit."
Verlander's inability to get outs caused him to exit the sixth inning to an abundance of boos. He allowed seven runs on 12 hits and two walks in six innings. He struck out two, his lowest total since May 25.
Verlander was visibly frustrated as he exited the mound, but he placed the blame squarely on his shoulders. "I don't blame the fans for booing," he said. "They are frustrated with me, I'm just as frustrated with myself. I would have probably booed myself tonight. They've cheered me a lot of times, and they will cheer me again."
The Tigers played fine in the field, with the exception of the seventh inning, when they collected two errors — one coming from a bad throw by Reed, the other on a high throw by shortstop Eugenio Suarez.
The offense did its best to pick up Verlander and Reed — who, for the last 10 games has gone from being highly effective to unable to record an out — but trying to come back from a nine-run deficit is hard to do.
And those mistakes on the field as well as on the basepaths didn't help a game that had already gotten away from the Tigers by a significant margin. "There were a couple plays in the field, and we had the baserunning mistake that certainly didn't help us, but obviously didn't cost us the game," Ausmus said. "Those things need to be cleaned up."
The Tigers now hold a mere half-game lead in the American League Central, and the Royals have now won eight consecutive games. The Tigers' record is 36–30 for the season.
Infield defense: Eugenio Suarez and Ian Kinsler have gelled in a short amount of time. The Royals seemed particularly drawn to Suarez, hitting several grounders to the young shortstop including three consecutively so in the first inning. With some exceptions, the Tigers defense has been firing on all cylinders as of late and provided fans with some nice plays.
Blaine Hardy: Got the job done when Reed couldn't. He entered the game with an 11–2 deficit and nobody out but struck out two and induced a groundout for the third out of the seventh inning. He went on to pitch a scoreless eighth inning.
J.D. Martinez: Replaced Torii Hunter in the fourth inning and was 0-2 for the evening until the ninth inning. With the bases loaded and two out, Martinez smoked the second grand slam of his career.
Billy Butler: Making Verlander frustrated since, well, forever it seems. He hit a bases-clearing RBI double in the fifth inning, which, at the time gave the Royals their first lead of the day for a score of 4–2. The Tigers would not gain the lead following that at-bat.
Justin Verlander: Verlander continues to struggle in the middle innings, and Monday night was no exception. He allowed four runs in the fourth inning alone, which put the Tigers behind by two, after they lead 2-0 for four innings. He then gave up a three-run shot to former Tigers second baseman Omar Infante in the sixth inning.
Royals defense: Give credit to Lorenzo Cain for making a spectacular diving catch in deep center field to rob J.D. Martinez of what should have been a run-scoring hit. That said, Cain did what Austin Jackson refuses to do; make a diving catch.
Evan Reed: He faced six batters and retired none of them. Of the four hits Reed allowed, four runs scored, although only one was earned. He also made a throwing error in the seventh that allowed two of the Royals runners to score.
Base-running: Bad base-running from J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez could have cost the Tigers two scoring opportunities.
STREAKS AND STATS:
- Davis swiped his 20th stolen base of the season, which makes him a roadrunner in layman's terms and second in the American League. The stolen base puts him fourth in the majors and inches him closer to the American League lead of 24, which currently belongs to Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros.
- Davis had his fifth outfield assist of the season, which now ties him for fifth in the American League. Davis was 3-for-5 for the evening; he and Victor Martinez were the only two Tigers with multiple hits.
- In the last 10 games, Reed has pitched 9⅔ innings, plus the six batters he faced Monday night when he failed to record a single out. Since May 20, Reed has allowed 19 hits, 12 runs (all earned), six walks, 12 strikeouts, and two home runs. Prior to that, Reed had given up 16 hits, five runs (all earned) walked three, struck out 11, and allowed one home run between March 31 and May 18.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
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