Kansas City — It did not end well. No getting around that.
But all things considered, for the Tigers to break even over an eight-game road trip against three 2015 playoff teams, albeit not inspiring, isn’t much cause for alarm.
“Definitely not the end of the world,” manager Brad Ausmus said after the Tigers dropped the rubber match of a three-game set with the Royals, 4-0, Thursday. “But there were things about it we didn’t like. There was some baserunning we didn’t like.
“So despite the fact that it was a .500 road trip, and you will take that on occasion, we feel like we’re better than that. So it was disappointing in that sense.”
There were other facets of the game not to like, as well. Like the lack of production from the Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 hitters. Justin Upton was 5-for-35, Miguel Cabrera 7-for-34, Victor Martinez 6-for-25 and J.D. Martinez 7-for-28.
“It’s not what we wanted,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said of the trip that also went through Pittsburgh and Houston. “We want to win every series. But it’s still early in the season and by no means are we hitting the panic button. We’re too good a team.
“We were in every game and we don’t have guys like Miggy, Victor and J.D. swinging it like we know they’re going to and like we know they can.”
The starting pitching, other than Jordan Zimmermann, was suspect, too.
Right-hander Mike Pelfrey was roughed up for the third time this season, the second on the trip. He gave up four runs (three earned) on eight hits and five walks in five innings.
“I take the blame for this,” Pelfrey said. “It’s my fault. It’s unacceptable. I need to be a lot better and I need to figure it out pretty fast. It’s embarrassing. I haven’t been good enough for three starts. I’ve been terrible. I will figure it out.”
What’s mystifying is that Pelfrey has walked 11 batters in his last two starts, covering 11 innings.
“I don’t think my command has ever been as bad,” he said. “I feel bad for the guys behind me having to stand around and then have to hit after standing on the field for 40 minutes.”
The problem, he said, is that his out pitch, a sinker, has been flat. Instead of sinking, it’s running, moving on a horizontal plane.
“He made some good strides from the last start,” Saltalamacchia said. “Mechanics-wise he was a lot better. Obviously he struggled in the first couple innings…These guys (the Royals) have faced him so many times, they were sitting on his sinker. And when it’s not sinking, it’s tough to get quick outs.”
Pelfrey gave up hits to the first three batters he faced. A double-play liner to shortstop Jose Iglesias helped him limit the damage to one run.
He was bailed out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second inning by a sensational play by Iglesias. Lorenzo Cain hit a hard smash up the middle. Iglesias, with a quick move to his left and a slide, corralled it and flipped it to Ian Kinsler at second to start the double play.
But in the fourth, the Royals broke through. Omar Infante led off with a double and scored on Escobar’s sacrifice fly. Mike Moustakas followed with a 424-foot home run to dead center.
Pelfrey walked Cain and gave up a single to Eric Hosmer. Cain and Hosmer pulled off a double steal. Saltalamacchia’s throw to third base eluded Castellanos and Cain scored the fourth run.
“The ball’s not sinking, it’s running; immediately that tells me I’m not getting on top of it,” Pelfrey said. “I am going to go back and watch video and figure something out.”
Given all the traffic he’s put on the bases — his WHIP is 2.18 — it’s a minor miracle his ERA is only 3.68.
“It’s a bump in the road,” Pelfrey said. “I just (stinks) it being my first three starts with the Tigers. I need to do a better job of getting our guys to the plate. I am sure it’s not fun playing behind a guy who’s not throwing strikes.
“But I’ve been around. This is like my 11th year. I will figure it out. I have to. I am a big boy. I will figure this out.”
Pelfrey hasn’t won in his last 16 road starts, dating to May 14, 2015, when he beat the Tigers at Comerica Park.
“It’s ironic that he hasn’t given up a lot of earned runs,” Ausmus said. “But this isn’t the way we want to draw it up on an every-five-day basis.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, couldn’t manage much push-back against Royals ace Edinson Volquez. The Tigers have roughed him up over the years, but on Thursday he blanked them on five hits in seven innings.
He was in real trouble only once and it was the result of an error by shortstop Alcides Escobar in the fourth inning. The Tigers were trailing only 1-0 at the time and had the bases loaded with two outs.
Volquez struck out Saltalamacchia to end the threat.
“He made his pitches when he needed to,” Saltalamacchia said. “We had situations where we could’ve got some runs but we couldn’t get the job done.”
The Tigers have yet to score a run when Pelfrey has been on the mound. The Tigers have been outscored 12-0 in his 14 2/3 innings.
Kinsler had double and a single off Volquez. It was his fourth straight multi-hit game and his ninth of the season. He led baseball with 61 multi-hit games last season.
Kinsler also made a web gem-worthy diving play to rob Alex Gordon of a single in the fifth.
Kyle Ryan pitched two scoreless innings and Alex Wilson one to keep it a four-run deficit. But the Tigers didn’t threaten against relievers Kelvin Herrera or Danny Duffy.
There was a scary moment in the bottom of the seventh. Justin Upton and Tyler Collins converged on a routine fly ball by Gordon. Upton called for it but Collins, also calling for it, didn’t defer. He ran into Upton and knocked him down. But Upton held onto the ball and didn’t appear injured.
The Tigers (8-6) come home Friday to start a three-game series with the Indians.