Kansas City, Mo. — In the span of four days, the Tigers’ top two starting pitchers – Michael Fulmer and Justin Verlander – were matched against pitchers making their MLB debuts.
The Tigers, incredibly, are now 0-2 in those two games.
After the White Sox Tyler Danish shut them out for five innings in a 3-0 win Saturday, Royals left-hander Eric Skoglund, called up from Triple-A Omaha to take injured Danny Duffy’s spot, threw six shutout innings and beat the Tigers 1-0 Tuesday night.
“The common thread is we’re not swinging the bats well,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “If we were swinging the bats well, it wouldn’t matter who was on the mound.”
It’s the fifth time the Tigers have been shutout this season, and the third time on this three-city trip. The first shutout, a one-hitter, was at the hands of Astros Brad Peacock — a reliever making an emergency start — and three other relievers.
Hard to fathom. Hard to stomach.
“I feel frustrated because we need to get it going now,” said Miguel Cabrera, who was robbed of a hit by shortstop Alcides Escobar in the sixth. “We need to step up and bring everything we got every day. We have to be better at home plate, have better at-bats.
“We need to try and make something happen, not just getting one home run. We need to get on base and let everybody do their job. First, we need to get on base. We don’t get on base, we don’t score.”
Three baserunners, that’s all the Tigers could muster against Skoglund. Only one runner got to second base, that was in the first inning. When Skoglund left to a standing ovation with one out in the seventh, the Tigers had two singles — Victor Martinez and Dixon Machado — and a walk with five strikeouts.
“It’s a night he will remember his entire life,” Ausmus said. “The hitters were coming back saying he was a little sneaky. He hid the ball well and he was able to get it on you quicker than you’d think he would.”
The Tigers had no answer for his two-seam fastball that ranged in speed from 88-91 mph, a four-seamer that he could pop at 93-94, or the slider that he kept steadily on the hands of their nine right-handed hitters.
“He’s so tall (6-7), like when he’s throwing 89-90 (mph) it’s like 93-94,” said Cabrera, who struck out on three pitches against Skoglund in the fourth. “And when he throws 93-93, it’s like 97. He’s so tall, when he releases the ball he feels so close to you. He was good today.”
It didn’t get any better for the Tigers once the Royals went to their bullpen. Peter Moylan finished the seventh by striking out J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton on six pitches.
The Tigers got one hit the rest of the way — a two-out single by Jose Iglesias, who was promptly picked off by left-hander Mike Minor.
Closer Kelvin Herrera retired pinch-hitter Alex Avila, Nick Castellanos and Cabrera to end the night.
The shutout ruined Verlander’s outing, which was his best this month and his best away from Comerica Park by far.
“It was obviously nice to pitch well, but we didn’t win,” Verlander said. “So, it was disheartening.”
Verlander cruised through four innings and only got into small mess in the fifth because of two defensive lapses. He had allowed only two hits until the sixth.
“It was one of his best starts of the year,” Ausmus said. “His fastball location was good early, his curve ball was really good early, his slider was good and he showed a really strong change-up. He had all four pitches working as well as they have all year.”
The Royals scratched out the run in the sixth.
Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas singled to start the inning. Verlander, though, got Lorenzo Cain to hit into a fast, 6-4-3 double play on a first-pitch fastball.
Eric Hosmer was next. Verlander got him on two roll-over groundouts previously, but a 2-1 slider was left a little bit up and Hosmer lined it into center to score the only run.
“I didn’t get hit as much,” Verlander said when asked about the difference between this start and the previous rougher outings this month. “Just a little better luck. Sometimes these guys hit good pitches.”
Verlander worked through the seventh, allowing six hits with five strikeouts. But the only thing he seemed pleased about was being able to team up with fellow Goochland (Va.) High School alum John Hicks, who caught Verlander for the first time.
“We worked well together,” Verlander said. “It was a lot of fun to throw to him. His brother (Daniel) and I have been friends dating back to high school, so that was pretty cool for Goochland High and the county.
“That part was fun. All the grinding afterward and coming out empty-handed — not so much fun.”
About that fifth inning: With two out, third baseman Castellanos stayed back a bit too long on a routine ground ball hit by Whit Merrifield and his throw was late.
“He’s got to come get that ball quicker,” Ausmus said.
Merrifield then caught Hicks napping, taking second on a delayed steal. Hicks, who framed the pitch on the outside corner and didn’t get a strike called, held the spot a second too long.
Alex Gordon followed with another routine ground ball to Castellanos. Instead of making the easy play to first, he decided to chase Merrifield back to second. The Tigers were fortunate to tag him out at third base after a 5-4-6 rundown.
“He had the runner right in front of him and he figured it’d be easier to tag him than throw it across the diamond, I guess,” Ausmus said.
He said there was nothing wrong with Castellanos’ arm, nor did he think Castellanos was leery of making another throw.
“Generally you make the play to first base,” Ausmus said. “But it’s not unheard of for that to happen, especially if you feel you have him right next to you.”