Kansas City, Mo. — It was something he’d never felt before.
Victor Martinez said what he felt initially, when Kelvin Herrera’s 82-mph slider hit him square on the right kneecap in the eighth inning, was a burning sensation.
“I never been hit with a baseball before and it burns,” he said.
Martinez went down and stayed down, writhing in pain. He ultimately picked himself up and went to first base. But manager Brad Ausmus still sent Andrew Romine in to run for him.
“I’m good, just sore when he hit me,” Martinez said. “I will be ready to go tomorrow. Right when it hit me, I knew it wasn’t serious. It was just the pain from the hit, that’s it.”
It was a hard way to get the 999th RBI of his career. With the next one, Martinez will become the fifth Venezuelan-born player to achieve 1,000 RBIs.
General manager Al Avila came into the clubhouse after the game Tuesday and walked over to the corner where Martinez and Miguel Cabrera were seated. He had a short chat with Martinez, inquiring about the knee.
For Cabrera, he had no words, just a consoling squeeze of his neck. Cabrera hasn’t had to endure too many nights like this one — four strikeouts, two with the bases loaded.
“When you swing at balls, then (the pitcher) makes a good pitch,” he said in a subdued, barely audible voice. “If you swing at strikes, maybe you have a chance.”
Royals starter Yordano Ventura, who is most noted for his mid-90s fastball, got him twice with change-ups. Herrera, noted for his 100-mph fastball, struck him out on three sliders.
“I don’t know,” Cabrera said. “You have to be ready for everything.”
Last season, at least early on, the Tigers deployed an over-shifted defense against Royals’ left-handed hitters Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Kendrys Morales.
On Tuesday, they only shifted on Morales.
“I don’t know if it’s a team philosophy or just the individuals doing it, but they have guys who used to be shifted quite a bit who have done an excellent job of making adjustments,” Ausmus said. “Moustakas has shown he can go the other way. Hosmer beats the shift with the bunt.
“As much as Hosmer and Moustakas have the ability to drive the ball out of the yard, they also understand they can have an impact by getting on first base and allowing the next guy to do their job.”
After Tuesday, the Tigers may stop shifting on Morales, too. He singled to the open left side of the field in the third inning.