It's 'big series' vs. Royals, but Tigers thinking big picture

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Shane Greene (1-0, 2.57) goes for the Tigers in the series opener Tuesday.

Houston — When your season is 162 games and stretches from April-October, you can’t get overwrought by any single series, nor is it wise to expand your focus much further than the game at hand.

Or as Tigers manager Brad Ausmus so eloquently stated, “(Forget) yesterday, (bleep) tomorrow, win today.”

Nevertheless, the Tigers reacquaint themselves with the reigning Central Division and World Series champion Royals tonight. The three-game set at Kauffman Stadium kicks off a stretch where 12 of the next 16 games are against division opponents.

“You want to play well in your division because you play so many games against them,” Ausmus said. “But on a day-to-day basis, no game is more important than another.”

You only have to go back to last year to see the folly of putting all your emotional eggs in one Central Division basket.

“They do mean more,” Ian Kinsler said of games within the division. “In the standings it can help a little bit. But at the same time, every game is worth the same. You can be really good against your division and bad outside your division and be sitting in last place in your division.”

Been there, done that.

The curious case of Verlander’s reverse splits

The Tigers were 41-34 against the Royals, Indians, White Sox and Twins last season. And they still finished last in the division, going 33-53 against everybody else.

The Tigers were 9-10 against the Royals, which is a feat considering they were outscored 107-66.

“It is a big series, don’t get me wrong,” Kinsler said. “You want to get off on the right foot against them. But outside of that, we’re not worried about 12 of the next 16.”

Royals left fielder Alex Gordon has struggled a little this season at the plate, but he’s certainly had some moments against the Tigers.

The Royals, 8-4, are coming home off a 4-3 trip. They won three of four in Houston but lost the last two in Oakland. Several of their key offensive players have yet to hit their stride — Lorenzo Cain (.227), Alex Gordon (.233), Mike Moustakas (.217, four home runs), Salvador Perez (.231).

The pitching, though, has been good — as usual. The Tigers will see Yordano Ventura tonight, Ian Kennedy (2-0, .066 ERA) on Wednesday and ace Edinson Volquez (2-0, 2.04) on Thursday.

The Tigers counter with Shane Greene, Jordan Zimmermann (who has yet to allow a run in 13 innings), and Mike Pelfrey. Pelfrey made three starts against the Royals last season and was 1-0, allowing four runs in 16⅓ innings.

The Royals bullpen remains formidable. Closer Wade Davis (5⅔ innings, one hit) and setup man Kelvin Herrera (6⅔ innings, six hits) have yet to allow a run. Former Tigers closer Joakim Soria took the loss in the Oakland finale. He has given up five runs in 6⅔ innings.

The Royals also are expected to be without speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson, out with an oblique injury.

The Tigers will have left-handed reliever Blaine Hardy at their disposal. He completed his rehab stint in Toledo and was recalled, and Logan Kensing was designated for assignment.

Around the horn

West Michigan right-hander Spenser Watkins has been suspended for 50 games under baseball’s minor league drug program following a second positive test for drugs of abuse.

Watkins, 23, was a 30th-round draft pick by the Tigers in 2014. He was 5-4 with a 2.48 ERA in 15 starts and one relief appearance last year for Single A Connecticut and Single A West Michigan. He is 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA for West Michigan this year.

Associated Press contributed

On deck: Royals

Series: Three games, Tuesday-Thursday, Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.

First pitch: 7:15 all three nights

TV/radio: FSD+ Tuesday-Wednesday, ESPN Wednesday, FSD on Thursday/WWJ Tuesday, 97.1 on Wednesday-Thursday

Probables: Tuesday — RHP Shane Greene (1-0, 2.57) vs. RHP Yordano Ventura (0-0, 2.45); Wednesday — RHP Jordan Zimmermann (2-0, 0.00) vs. RHP Ian Kennedy (2-0, 0.66); Thursday — RHP Mike Pelfrey (0-2, 6.52) vs. RHP Edinson Volquez (2-0, 2.04)

Scouting report

■ Greene: He has pitched well against the Royals — two starts, one earned run, 13 innings. He allowed a run and four hits in eight innings at Comerica Park last season. This will be his first start at Kauffman Stadium. He also will face a predominantly left-handed-hitting lineup, and lefties in the past have hit him well (.321 last season).

■ Ventura: He’s pitched 11 innings in two starts against the Twins and Astros. He’s allowed three runs, but has walked nine. He’s throwing his 95 mph fastball less so far (48 percent of the time compared to 57 percent last season) and using his curve and change-up more often. He was 2-0 against the Tigers last year, but he hardly dominated (11 runs in 24 innings, 1.500 WHIP).