Kansas City, Mo. — The wins and losses from here on in matter less than individual performance and development. That's harsh to say, because the Tigers collectively, as they demonstrated again Friday night, are still grinding to win baseball games.
But these next three months are more of a platform, either for players to showcase themselves for other teams (like Nick Castellanos, Shane Greene and Matthew Boyd will be doing), for future contracts (like Jordy Mercer is doing) or trying to secure a place with the Tigers for next season and beyond.
So, in that light, the 8-5 loss to the Royals was big for Victor Reyes and Gregory Soto, concerning for Spencer Turnbull and frustrating for Blaine Hardy, one of the longer standing veterans.
► Start with Hardy.
It was a 5-5 game when he entered in the seventh inning. He gave up two runs, one on a home run by Martin Maldonado that looked to Hardy like a pop up off the bat.
"It was a good pitch (a change-up), I just left it up," Hardy said. "I thought it was routine pop fly, but something decided to blow it a little farther."
That's been happening with alarming frequency to Hardy. It was the eighth home run allowed in 36.2 innings.
"I'm not really concerned," he said. "You look around the whole league and homers are going up. Whether it's the change in baseballs, how they are being created or what. Some pitchers are still able to keep the ball in the yard and hats off to them.
"But the ball is flying farther than it used to."
► Turnbull was making his first start since June 27, having spent 10 days on the injured list with shoulder fatigue, and he didn’t seem to have a lot of fire in his right arm. Or maybe it was his legs that he didn't quite have under him.
"It's not so much the arm," manager Ron Gardenhire said of Turnbull, who lasted three innings and allowed five runs (four earned). "It's your legs that go when you haven't been throwing consistently. Your legs get weak. You could tell he hit a wall out there."
Turnbull’s velocity was down, but just a tick. He touched 95 mph but it sat at 93. More of a concern was his command and the lack of life on his fastball and slider. He walked three batters in the first three innings and all three scored.
"It wasn't my best," said Turnbull, who the Tigers hope can be one of the pillars of their future rotation. "I left a lot of pitches up and wasn't able to finish guys off. Gave up a lot of hard contact and a couple really hurt."
He allowed four hits, including an RBI double to Jorge Soler, who homered off Jose Cisnero in the eighth, and a two-run home run to Cheslor Cuthbert in the third inning when he gave back a 4-2 lead.
"Not going to make any excuses," Turnbull said. "I just have to be better. I felt all right, especially early on. Just, for whatever reason, I struggled a little. I'm more concerned that the slider wasn't moving much."
► Soto relieved him and gave the Tigers three scoreless, one-hit innings, cementing the general feeling that a two-pitch, left-hander who rings 97 mph on his sinking fastball belongs in the bullpen.
"We're not nullifying the fact that he can be a starter," Gardenhire said. "All we are doing is putting him out there now to get innings in and help us get through a few situations like this and keep him stretched out as best as we can until we see where we're at.
"He was fantastic tonight and we like him in this role."
► Reyes, hitting leadoff and playing center field in place of JaCoby Jones (back), produced three hits and a walk, scored two runs and his double with two outs in the sixth inning tied the game at 5.
And for his trouble, he's likely to get another ticket back to Triple-A Toledo on Sunday when Jones returns.
"He's earned himself a chance to come up here when we have injuries," Gardenhire said. "But the unfortunate part about it is, we have three outfielders and when Jonesy comes back Sunday, we're going to have to make a decision.
"And Reyes is not going to sit the bench up here. We can't do that to the kid. He's played well and he's swinging the bat well. It wouldn't be fair to him to sit him on the bench."
But he's stamping his name on a roster spot for 2020.
"Absolutely," Gardenhire said. "He did that last year, for me. I like him a lot. He's doing all the right stuff. He's going to be a good one."