Squandered chances burn Tigers in loss to Royals

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. — Opportunities are like checks — if you don’t cash them in, they are worthless.

The Tigers left way too many uncashed checks on the base paths Saturday, enduring a 5-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

Coupled with victories by the Indians and Orioles, the Tigers are now 5 1/2 games back in the Central Division and a game back in the wild-card race.

“Every loss is equally frustrating,” catcher James McCann said. “You want to win every game. But we definitely had opportunities. You can’t say we didn’t have opportunities. We just couldn’t come up with the big hit when we needed it.”

For six innings, Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura walked a narrow ledge between erratic and effective, but he never fell off. Or, more accurately, the Tigers were unable to knock him off.

BOX SCORE: Royals 5, Tigers 2

“Effectively wild describes his outing,” McCann said. “But he found a way to get it done in key spots.”

Twelve Tigers reached base against Ventura, six of them on free passes. Six runners got into scoring position.

Only one scored. And that only because of an errant throw by second baseman Raul Mondesi on what would have been an inning-ending double play in the fourth.

“He was able to wiggle out of jams,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “For some reason, he pitches well against us.”

The Tigers were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position through five innings. Justin Upton went 0-for-3 in those situations, including a first-pitch ground out with the bases loaded in the fifth — that after a five-pitch walk to Victor Martinez and a four-pitch walk to J.D. Martinez.

Tigers call up Mantiply; Justin Wilson battling arm fatigue?

In the second inning, it looked like the Tigers were going to score two runs on one wild pitch. J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez raced home on a ball that got by catcher Salvador Perez with Tyler Collins batting.

Perez never chased down the ball, appealing to home plate umpire Jerry Meals that Collins had swung at the pitch.

Sure enough, Collins not only swung and missed, but the pitch hit him in the back foot. The ball is ruled dead at that point, runners can’t advance. Collins ended up taking a called third strike in the at-bat.

“We just couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it,” said Ian Kinsler, who hit his 25th home run leading off the ninth inning. “That’s really what it came down to.”

The Tigers have yet to beat Ventura. He is 7-0 in his career against them. The Royals won four of his five starts this year (he had a no-decision in the loss).

The squandered opportunities made a loser out of rookie Michael Fulmer (10-6), who pitched a solid six innings.

“My stuff was a lot better today,” he said. “I’m taking all positives out of this. My fastball command was better. I made a few mechanical tweaks that helped a lot. The change-up was sharp and the slider was sharp.

“I got a lot of ground balls tonight, kind of like the old me out there — that’s what I want.”

After cruising through three innings, Fulmer grooved a 3-2 fastball to Cheslor Cuthbert — double. Then a 2-2 fastball to Eric Hosmer caught too much of the plate — two-run home run, his career-best 20th to give the Royals a 2-1 lead.

“The 3-2 pitch to Cuthbert, I wasn’t going to walk him in front of Hosmer,” Fulmer said. “I was definitely going to throw a strike there and he hit it in the gap. The 2-2 to Hosmer, I threw it up and in. It could’ve been a little higher, but it was in. He just put a good swing on it.”

That was akin to a sucker punch. What the Royals did in the bottom of the fifth, after the Tigers left the bases loaded in the top of the inning, felt more like a paper cut.

After Fulmer got two quick outs, the Royals broke out the small ball. Mondesi and Jarrod Dyson laid down perfectly placed bunt singles. Cuthbert then cashed in Mondesi with a single to center — the type of hit that eluded the Tigers on this night.

“There’s nothing you can do about that,” Fulmer said. “If that’s the way they want to get on base, it’s fine. They’re fast and they are a good-running team. They are going to try to produce any way they can.”

The Royals tacked on two runs in the eighth. Kyle Ryan gave up a single, a wild pitch and an intentional walk. With one out and runners on second and third, Ausmus summoned Mark Lowe, who hasn’t pitched in many high-leverage situations since early in the season.

Ausmus was trying not to use Justin Wilson, Shane Greene and Francisco Rodriguez.

“And we didn’t have the lead,” he said. “But Lowe actually did exactly what we said — be careful with (Paulo) Orlando because we had a base open. (Alcides) Escobar, the next hitter, can run but we could double him up — we’d just have to play shallower in the infield.

“Don’t give in to Orlando and try to get the double play.”

Lowe walked Orlando on a 3-2 pitch and got the ground ball from Escobar. Problem was, it found a hole, scoring two runs.

Left-hander Joe Mantiply, just called up from Double-A Erie Saturday, made his big-league debut by getting Dyson to fly out to end the eighth.

Twitter.com: @cmccosky