The Tigers recorded their first two-game winning streak in nearly two weeks, beating the Royals 5-3 at Comerica Park on Tuesday night.
After a rough start, allowing three runs in the first inning, Justin Verlander went seven full innings, allowing zero runs after the opening frame. He did allow nine hits, but struck out six batters for his fifth win of the year.
On the other hand, Royals (37-38) starter Matt Strahm, a converted reliever, went just 3 2/3 innings, striking out two but giving up five runs on six hits. He didn’t pitch long enough to get a decision.
It was mainly a three-run home run by Miguel Cabrera in the bottom of the third that chased Strahm. It was a much-needed homer for Cabrera whose confidence had been waning. He finished 1-for-4, though, with only the long-ball for the Tigers (34-42).
J.D. Martinez also went deep with a solo homer and tripled later in the game. He finished 2-for-3 at the plate with a walk.
The Royals did out-hit the Tigers, however, 11-to-9. Jorge Bonifacio, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer all led the way with three hits each.
Justin Wilson recorded his seventh save in eight tries for the Tigers with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
Daniel Norris will take the mound for Detroit on Wednesday (4-5, 4.66 ERA) and Ian Kennedy (1-6, 4.95) will get the ball for the Royals.
Top 9th: Tigers 5, Royals 3
Justin Wilson entered the game, looking for his seventh save. Andrew Romine also came into the game, for defensive help, at third base.
That defensive moved paid off right away as Alex Gordon grounded one off the heel of Wilson and Romine tossed him out at first on a bang-bang play. Whit Merrifield then struck out swinging on four pitches. Jorge Bonifacio struck out looking to end the game.
Bottom 8th: Tigers 5, Royals 3
Former Tiger reliever Neftali Feliz came in to relieve Scott Alexander in the home half of the eighth.
Alex Avila replaced John Hicks as a pinch hitter and nearly hit one out to left, but Alex Gordon raced back to the warning track for a loud first out. James McCann also got a good swing on a Feliz pitch, lining out sharply to short. Jose Iglesias then popped out into foul territory.
Top 8th: Tigers 5, Royals 3
Daniel Stumpf entered the game in relief for Justin Verlander.
A seeing-eyed single off the bat of Eric Hosmer and under Ian Kinsler's glove to start the eighth chased Stumpf. Bruce Rondon then entered the contest.
Salvador Perez then swung on strike three on a fastball on the edge of the strike zone for the first out. Mike Moustakas then singled to center after a nine-pitch at-bat. Brandon Moss struck out looking on what looked to be a ball, but Rondon got the benefit of the call.
Alcides Escobar grounded out to Jose Iglesias who took the out at second to end the threat.
Bottom 7th: Tigers 5, Royals 3
For the second straight inning, Scott Alexander took the mound in relief.
It took nine pitches to retire Justin Upton on strikes for the first out. Miguel Cabrera then struck out as well with an ugly swing on a pitch in the dirt.
J.D. Martinez remained hot, smacking a triple into the left center field gap with two gone. Nick Castellanos grounded out weakly to end the inning.
Top 7th: Tigers 5, Royals 3
Justin Verlander looked to finish the game with seven strong innings under his belt with his pitch count rising.
Whit Merrifield helped him out by grounding out to short, but Jorge Bonifacio singled on a scorcher back to the mound which was tipped by Verlander to Nick Castellanos. Lorenzo Cain then grounded into a double play on one pitch to end the top half of the seventh.
Bottom 6th: Tigers 5, Royals 3
Scott Alexander entered the game for Peter Moylan to start the sixth.
James McCann singled through the left side of the infield to kick things off. Jose Iglesias then ended a potential threat, grounding into a double play. Bad Ausmus challenged the out at first and it was overturned.
With Ian Kinsler at the plate, Alexander's wild pitch advanced Iglesias to second with one out. He then struck out swinging. Mikie Mahtook then stranded Iglesias at second with a fly out to center.
Top 6th: Tigers 5, Royals 3
Justin Verlander continued to cruise in the sixth.
Mike Moustakas grounded grounded out to the mount on an 0-1 pitch and Brandon Moss grounded out to first for the first two outs of the inning, respectively.
Alcides Escobar singled to left on a short fly ball with two outs but he was stranded there thanks to a swinging strikeout by Alex Gordon.
Bottom 5th: Tigers 5, Royals 3
Looking to tack on more runs, the middle of the Tigers' order stepped to the plate in the fifth.
Justin Upton grounded out to start the inning. Miguel Cabrera followed him up by reaching base on an error and J.D. Martinez walked after working a full count.
Nick Castellanos struck out looking and John Hicks grounded into a fielder's choice to end the fifth.
Top 5th: Tigers 5, Royals 3
Justin Verlander got back to work with his biggest lead of the game.
Lorenzo Cain grounded out to second to begin the top half of the fifth, Eric Hosmer flew out to left and Salvador Perez flew out to center on the first pitch.
Bottom 4th: Tigers 5, Royals 3
The Tigers' offense remained hot in the fourth.
Nick Castellanos grounded a leadoff single through the left side of the infield. James McCann was then hit by a pitch with one out, moving Castellanos to second. Jose Iglesias grounded into a fielder's choice as the Royals took the force at second.
Peter Moylan replaced Matt Strahm with two outs.
The first batter after the pitching change, Ian Kinsler, singled, driving in Castellanos. A wild pitch with Mikie Mahtook at the plate moved Iglesias to third and Kinsler to second. He then popped out to first base to end the inning.
John Hicks struck out looking for the first out, Iglesias' fielder's choice accounted for the second out before the pitching change.
Top 4th: Tigers 4, Royals 3
Alcides Escobar recorded yet another leadoff hit for the Royals, singling to left. Alex Gordon grounded out to first base, advancing Escobar to second. The next batter, Whit Merrifield, lined out to right. Escobar advanced to third on a passed ball by James McCann.
Jorge Bonifacio struck out on a foul tip for out No. 3.
Bottom 3rd: Tigers 4, Royals 3
After a Jose Iglesias single to lead off the home half of the inning, Ian Kinsler popped out for the second time in the game. Mikie Mahtook then singled for the second time in three innings. Justin Upton flew out to center on the first pitch.
Miguel Cabrera hit a three-run homer to right field with two outs, giving the Tigers their first lead. J.D. Martinez then ended the inning with a swinging strikeout on a questionable pitch.
Top 3rd: Royals 3, Tigers 1
For the second time in three innings, the Royals got the leadoff man on base.
Lorenzo Cain singled to center and then Eric Hosmer walked on four pitches.
Salvador Perez then struck out swinging, Mike Moustakas lined out to center, moving Cain to third, and Brandon Moss lined out to second to end the threat.
Bottom 2nd: Royals 3, Tigers 1
The Tigers got off to a quicker start in the second.
J.D. Martinez led off the inning with a deep home run to left. Nick Castellanos grounded out to the pitcher for the first out. John Hicks and James McCann flew out to center, respectively, to end the inning.
Top 2nd: Royals 3, Tigers 0
Looking for a quicker second inning, Justin Verlander took the mound.
Alex Gordon popped out to third on the third pitch of the inning. Whit Merrifield struck out swinging. Jorge Bonifacio struck out swinging after a nine-pitch at-bat.
Bottom 1st: Royals 3, Tigers 0
The Tigers needed a good response to the Royals' strong start.
Ian Kinsler popped out in foul territory along first base to start the home half of the first. Mikie Mahtook recorded the Tigers' first hit with no outs on a single to center. Justin Upton then struck out looking.
Miguel Cabrera ended the first with a swinging strike three.
Top 1st: Royals 3, Tigers 0
Justin Verlander took the mount to start the Tigers' long home stand. He didn't get off to the best start.
Whit Merrifield peppered him early, hitting a ground-rule double to center to start the game. Jorge Bonifacio singled to center, scoring Merrifield from second. Lorenzo Cain singled softly to right, putting runners at first and second. Eric Hosmer then loaded the bases with a single to left.
Salvador Perez followed that up with a two-run single to push the Royals' lead to 3-0 with no outs.
Finally, the first out came on a fielder's choice grounder by Mike Moustakas to Miguel Cabrera who threw to second for the force out. Runners were at first and third for Brandon Moss who struck out swinging. Alcides Escobar grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning.
For those holding out hope the Tigers can make a run, it appears to be now or never.
A brutal road trip out west produced exactly one victory in seven games, plenty of speculation about the future of manager Brad Ausmus (though his job apparently never was in danger), and a deeper hole from which the Tigers must dig in the American League Central.
Their 7-5 victory Sunday over the San Diego Padres stopped an eight-game slide.
An opportunity begins Tuesday night, when the Tigers open a three-game series at home against the Royals at Comerica Park. First pitch is at 7:10 p.m.
Not only are the Royals one of three teams in the Tigers are chasing in the AL Central, it also begins a 10-game homestand that includes a four-game set against the AL Central front-running Cleveland Indians.
So, there's ground to be gained — if the Tigers can finally create some kind of home-field advantage at Comerica, where they're barely hovering above .500 this season (18-16).
Ace Justin Verlander gives the Tigers an opportunity for a strong start to the homestand. The right-hander hasn't been Cy Young-caliber this season with a 4.52 ERA, but he's been pretty stout at home, where he's 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA in six starts. Opponents are hitting .206 against him at Comerica.
He pitched well in his only start this season against the Royals, holding them to one run on six hits and a walk in a hard-luck 1-0 loss on May 30 in Kansas City.
The Tigers face lefty Matt Strahm (2-4, 4.80), who's faced the Tigers in a pair of relief appearances this season, firing three scoreless, one-hit innings in the same May series in Kansas City. Strahm is making his third start of the season, and of his major league career, which covers 43 appearances.
ROYALS AT TIGERS
First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Tuesday, Comerica Park, Detroit
TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
Records: The Tigers are 33-42, fourth place in the American League Central, seven games behind the Indians. The Royals are 37-37, third place in the AL Central, 2.5 games behind the Indians.
1. Whit Merrifield, 2B
2. Jorge Bonifacio, RF
3. Lorenzo Cain, CF
4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
5. Salvador Perez, C
6. Mike Moustakas, 3B
7. Brandon Moss, DH
8. Alcides Escobar, SS
9. Alex Gordon, LF
SP: Matt Strahm, LHP
1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Mikie Mahtook, CF
3. Justin Upton, LF
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
5. J.D. Martinez, RF
6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
7. John Hicks, DH
8. James McCann, C
9. Jose Iglesias, SS
SP: Justin Verlander, RHP