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Tigers stagger back to .500 after beatdown

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. — It’s the middle of June and the Tigers still can’t find any traction.

They got kicked around by the Royals again Saturday, 16-5, and are back at .500 (34-34).

And even that pedestrian record seems dubious. They are 2-10 against the Royals and Indians, the two teams they are chasing in the American League Central, and they are 8-19 against teams with a winning record — 26-15 against the others.

BOX SCORE: Royals 16, Tigers 5

On top of that, J.D. Martinez, one of the top run producers, is out four to six weeks with a broken elbow, the bullpen has alternated between being just all right and awful, and the back end of the starting rotation is in flux.

They are still well within striking distance, just 3.5 games out of the division lead, and there’s a lot season left, but you start to wonder if this team is ever going to swim or just tread water.

“Everybody in the Central is treading water, I’m not worried about that,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “There’s a long way to go.”

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His concerns were more immediate. Starting pitcher Matt Boyd, staked to a 2-0 run lead in the first inning, didn’t survive the fourth. And for the second straight night, the Royals trampled the Tigers bullpen.

Trampled it to the point of the ultimate indignity —having to use a position player to pitch. Andrew Romine, the only Tigers pitcher that didn’t allow a hit, got the final two outs in the eighth.

“Yeah it’s embarrassing,” Ausmus said. “It’s not unheard of. It happens. You don’t want to do that. You don’t want Andrew Romine to get hurt.”

It’s been a humbling couple of games for a team that fancies itself a contender. The Royals posted 26 runs and 34 hits the last two games against Tigers pitching.

“I’m not going to overreact, I promise you that,” Ausmus said. “It was two tough games in a row. We’re not pitching well, certainly not tonight. But it’s not like this hasn’t happened before. It’s happened each of the last two seasons where we had games like this.

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“We’ve got to pitch better, simple as that.”

Overreact, no. But there was an immediate reaction to the loss. Boyd and left-handed reliever Blaine Hardy were sent back to Toledo. The corresponding moves will be announced tomorrow. It’s possible Daniel Norris could be recalled and join the rotation. Ausmus also said Anibal Sanchez could be considered for a move back to the rotation.

“We haven’t discussed anything at this point,” Ausmus said.

It was a confounding start for Boyd.

He retired the side on 11 pitches in the first inning. And he put down the heart of the Royals order —Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez —on eight pitches in the third.

But in the second and the fourth, he was lit up for seven runs and nine hits. Royals’ second baseman Whitt Merrifield did much of the damage, knocking in four runs with a double and two singles.

“He had trouble finishing guys off,” Ausmus said. “He did throw strikes, which is a Catch-22 against these guys. They’re swingers and they hit strikes. The positive is he threw strikes, but when he got to two strikes, he didn’t have a put-out pitch the finish them off.”

Boyd, winless in five starts, has given up 13 runs and 15 hits in his last two covering eight innings. His slider, arguably his best pitch, has gone flat on him the last few starts.

Sanchez replaced him and allowed a run and four hits in 2.1 innings Saturday. In five relief appearances, he’s allowed two runs in 7.2 innings.

He held the fort long enough for the Tigers to threaten to make a game of it.

Down 8-2 in the seventh, Justin Upton hit a two-run home run (his second in two days) and Jose Iglesias singled home Steven Moya who had doubled —it was 8-5 and they chased starter Edinson Volquez out of the game.

Boyd, Hardy demoted, vow to work their way back

But the bullpen gave those three runs right back in the bottom of the seventh. Hardy, who was tagged for five runs Friday night, was summoned to face the left-handed hitting Hosmer to start the inning.

Hosmer, who banged a two-run single off Hardy Friday, smacked a double in the gap.

Alex Wilson entered. After getting one out and issuing an intentional walk to Perez, he gave up doubles to Kendrys Morales and Paulo Orlando.

Wait, there’s more. Mark Lowe, who gave up two hits and a run Friday, could only get one out in the eighth. He gave up five runs on five singles and couldn’t finish the inning.

“I’ve been where he is,” Ausmus said. “You feel awful. You feel like you are letting your teammates down and the fans down and you know you are better than this. It’s very difficult to go through. He’s worked his tail off to right the ship. Right now it hasn’t worked.”

Asked what the options were with Lowe, Ausmus said, “There aren’t a ton of options. He’s got to get right…I firmly believe at some point he will snap out of it.”

First baseman Miguel Cabrera was involved in a collision at first base with Orlando in the second inning. The throw from Boyd was into the runner and Cabrera’s arm got bent back in the collision.

He stayed in the game and he said afterward that he was fine. He did have treatment on the shoulder after the game.

“Embarrassing?” Ian Kinsler said, repeating the question. “I don’t know. These games happen. It happens throughout the season. We got beat tonight. Get ready for tomorrow. There is no feeling outside of just getting beat. We got beat.

“We just have to get outs. Pride doesn’t really play into it. We want to play good against these guys. The last two nights were not the greatest. Tomorrow is a new day.” 

Twitter @cmccosky

Detroit Tigers' Jose Iglesias safely retreats to first base during a pickoff attempt in the seventh inning.