MLB debuts for 3 Tigers pitchers soured by Royals rout in spectator-less home opener
Detroit — The Kansas City Royals were all about killing storylines Monday night.
It was the Tigers’ home opener, there was a heart-tugging pregame memorial for Tigers’ legend Al Kaline, who died April 6, it was right-hander Michael Fulmer’s return start after missing 22 months, it was the long-awaited major-league debuts of pitchers Kyle Funkhouser and Beau Burrows — all shot to bits.
The Royals, after falling behind 5-1, slugged a franchise record-tying six home runs, two by Maikel Franco, batted around in a six-run fourth inning and beat the Tigers 14-6 in their first home opener under the lights in 40 years.
"Yeah, it wasn't the Cinderella comeback story I was hoping for," said Fulmer, after his determined battle to return from major knee surgery and Tommy John surgery. "I was a little rusty, obviously. But, not to make excuses. I felt ready. I need to do a better job the next time out.
"But it's hard to be angry at that. It did feel good to be out there again."
After a scoreless first inning, he was tagged for home runs by Franco in the second, a two-run home run by Whit Merrifield and a solo home run by Salvador Perez in the third.
"The pitches were there, I just lacked consistency," Fulmer said. "I thought my first inning was good and my second inning was good, just had the one (slider) hang up to Franco. But in the third, I just fell apart.
"Overthrowing, too amped up — I need to do a better job of calming myself back down...definitely found some things I need to work on in my bullpen."
Scheduled to go just three innings, manager Ron Gardenhire pulled him after he walked Ryan O’Hearn with two outs in the third. He was at 47 pitches.
The results, though, matter less right now than him being back.
“Just really happy for him,” Jordy Mercer said. “It’s been a long road. Anybody who’s been around this game knows that injuries are part of the game and he’s certainly been there and done that. He’s checked a lot of those boxes, for sure.
“But he’s cleared that hurdle now and he’s ready to go. I couldn’t be happier for him. It’s a huge accomplishment to get back.”
Pitching coach Rick Anderson, in an interview with Tigers’ broadcaster Dan Dickerson, said Fulmer will be an opener for the rest of the year, meaning his starts will be limited to three innings.
"We are probably going to stay with this program," Gardenhire said. "Hopefully he can get through three innings next time. It got a little rough there at the end. But he made some good pitches those first couple innings.
"We plan on sending him out there every fifth day and see how he gets through. Just keep building up."
It certainly wasn't Gardenhire's intention to debut three rookie pitchers on this night.
"I looked back over my career; never had this before," he said. "But it's kind of where we are now. We have 16 pitchers and tonight we probably could've used a few more."
Funkhouser, whom the Tigers drafted in 2015, got knocked around in the fourth — doubles to Franchy Cordero and Merrifield, two-run single to O’Hearn and he walked two, as well.
Burrows, the club’s first-round pick and a former No. 1 prospect, relieved him with two-on and two-out and the first batter he faced, Franco, hit a 92-mph fastball onto the top of the bullpen roof in left-center. Five of the six runs in the fourth were on Funkhouser’s leger.
Burrows ended up going 2⅓ innings. Besides the Franco homer, he also gave up a two-run shot to Jorge Soler.
Another prospect, right-hander Anthony Castro, just recalled from the taxi squad, made his big-league debut in the ninth and gave up a two-run home run to Brett Phillips.
"If there was any fun at all tonight it was watching those young men compete and get their first action in a Major League Baseball game," Gardenhire said. "Not watching them get kicked around, but it's a learning process.
"They saw tonight, if you think you can throw fastballs by people in the middle of the plate, that's not going to work up here. You can get away with it at other places, but these guys can hit."
The last time the Tigers had at least three pitchers debut in the same game — 2002 when Jeremy Bonderman, Wil Ledezma, Matt Roney and Chris Spurling debuted.
"Maybe later tonight or tomorrow it will hit them, 'I just pitched in a Major League game,'" Gardenhire said. "I think that will be a really good feeling, whether you did good or whatever.
"'I got my feet wet in the major leagues and that's pretty cool.' Unfortunately, they had some rough patches. But they can only go up from here."
There was one successful (non-MLB) debut for the Tigers on this night. Right-hander Carson Fulmer, claimed off waivers from the White Sox, pitched a scoreless seventh, allowing only a two-out walk. His fastball sat at 93 but he effectively mixed in a curveball and what Statcast was reading as a change-up (86 mph) that may have been his cutter.
The Tigers chased Royals starter Mike Montgomery with a five-run second inning. The big blow being a three-run home run by JaCoby Jones, his second in three games. Niko Goodrum tripled and scored in the inning.
Victor Reyes hit his first home run of the season, staying back on an 0-2 breaking ball and hitting it the opposite way into the seats in right field. Impressive that he could do that, since the Royals pitcher, right-hander Josh Staumont, was throwing 99-mph fastballs.
Bittersweet night for Royals rookie lefty Foster Griffin, too. Making his big-league debut, on his 25th birthday, he got five outs and the win before having to leave with a left forearm strain.
It was, honestly, that kind of night.