June 16, 2014 at 1:00 am

Royals 11, Tigers 8

Justin Verlander receives Royals beating; Tigers division lead at half-game

Detroit — Nothing’s changed. Justin Verlander is still slumping.

And so are the Tigers.

Never mind that they scored six runs in the bottom of the ninth Monday night to lose 11-8 instead of 11-2 — they were beaten soundly by the Kansas City Royals.

In a defeat that reduced the Tigers’ lead in the American League Central to less than a game for the first time since April 19, Verlander’s ERA climbed to 7.83 for his last seven starts.

Not only that, but after the game he admitted that this is the “probably most frustrating point of my career so far.”

With the loss, the Tigers fell to 9-18 in their last 27 games. That’s a sixth of the season, folks. It’s a skid that needs to turn around, but hasn’t.

“Obviously not a good night,” manager Brad Ausmus replied, when asked to assess how Verlander pitched. “When you give up that many runs, you generally can’t call it a good night.”

Verlander allowed seven runs on 12 hits in six innings. He kept the Royals scoreless through the fourth, but allowed four runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth.

Ausmus said, however, that it serves no purpose to be concerned — and wouldn’t even say he is.

“He’s one of our pitchers,” he said of Verlander. “He’s going to pitch every fifth day. He’s going to be here all year.

“You keep looking forward. You can’t change the bad stretch he’s gone through.”

The seven-start stretch in which Verlander has struggled — and in which he’s 2-5 — has raised his overall ERA from 2.67 to 4.98.

The big hit of the fifth was Billy Butler’s three-run double. Butler is now 33-for-76 (.434) with 14 RBIs in his career off Verlander — the most hits and RBIs of any hitter against him.

Former Tiger Omar Infante did the damage in the sixth with a three-run home run.

When Verlander left the mound after the sixth, he voiced his frustration into his glove.

“I can’t say what those words were,” he said. “They’re not mother-approved.”

“Obviously he was upset with himself,” said Ausmus, “but that’s not the first time he’s done that.”

Helping to make the score closer in the ninth was J.D. Martinez’s grand slam, but when the Royals finally turned away from struggling reliever Donnie Joseph, the game ended quickly with a called strike three of Austin Jackson.

As for the Tigers’ division lead, yes, it still exists — but is down to a half-game.

Trying not to overhype this four-gamer against the Royals, even Ausmus has called it “an important series.”

One reason, of course, is that it’s first place playing second place.

But it’s also because these two clubs are currently heading in different directions. As a contrast to the Tigers, who are groping for a sustained turnaround, the win for the Royals was their eighth in a row.

As recently as June 1, they were in fifth place, 6˝ games out of first. Now they’re knocking on the door so loudly that if they win on Tuesday night, they’ll be leading the division.

Verlander (6-7) obviously can’t keep pitching the way he has for the five weeks. That’s clear.

“I’m sure everybody is frustrated,” he said, “the fans included. But we’ll get there. I’ll get there.

“Frustrating, yes. End of the world, no.”

Verlander got through the fourth without allowing any runs, but early innings haven’t been the problem for him.

It’s the heart of the game that has been. His earned run average in the middle three innings of his starts (4-5-6) is 7.12.

This time, though, the fifth inning began with the Tigers leading 2-0, having added their second run on Jackson’s RBI single in the bottom of the fourth.

The fourth was also the inning in which Torii Hunter left the game with a right hamstring cramp. His status is day-to-day.

Ausmus said he doesn’t think it will be “anything long-term”.

Against winning pitcher Jason Vargas (7-2), the Tigers jumped in front on Rajai Davis’ run-scoring double in the third.

The Royals added four runs off Evan Reed in the seventh. Because of two errors in the inning, one of them by Reed, only one of the runs was earned.

After that, lefty Blaine Hardy made his major-league debut by throwing two scoreless innings for the Tigers.

But the game was out of reach by then.

Even out of a big ninth inning’s reach.

tom.gage@detroitnews.com
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Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, right, talks with pitching coach Jeff Jones in the third inning. Verlander surrendered seven earned runs in six innings. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News