'They're warriors': Tigers bullpen shuts the door in record-setting win over Royals
Kansas City, Mo. — It seemed funny earlier in the day.
When the Tigers activated Michael Fulmer from the injured list Monday, and optioned infielder Isaac Paredes back to Toledo, they had 11 relievers on the active roster. Eleven. And just two extra position players.
Then starter Matthew Boyd had to leave the game in the third inning Monday night and the move looked prescient. With Boyd gone early, it became the Tigers' fourth bullpen game in five days. The bullpen had eaten up 28.1 innings over the four previous games and now had to cover another 6.2.
All arms on deck.
Eight relievers followed Boyd Monday night, three of them pitched Sunday, and they did hero’s work in the Tigers’ 10-3 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
"They're warriors down there," Fulmer said. "The bullpen has had a pretty big workload, and when you know you have to get through six, seven innings it's going to be tough. But you have to saddle up and get ready to go.
"The guys answered the call."
Boyd gave up back-to-back singles with one out in the third. He jogged to back-up third base on the second single. When he got back to the mound, he motioned for head athletic trainer Doug Teter. The conversation was brief. Boyd’s night was over.
Initial reports from the Tigers said he was experiencing “left arm discomfort,” and was undergoing further tests.
"He said he felt something in his triceps," manager AJ Hinch said. "Doug asked if he felt it just in that last pitch and Boyd said he felt it that entire inning. He said it felt funny. So that was an immediate removal from the game, which sets forth a number of tests.
"It's disappointing for the night because he was throwing the ball pretty well."
Losing Boyd for any length of time will be a killer. The Tigers already have one starter, Spencer Turnbull, on the injured list and he hasn't even begun a throwing program yet. It's part of the reason manager Hinch has deployed the bullpen games. Starter Jose Urena also missed a start a couple weeks ago and didn't get out of the second inning on Saturday.
"This one bothers me," Hinch said. "Coming out of game Monday and being ready to pitch again on Saturday? We're going to have to do something. I don't know yet what that plan will be, but we're going to be very cautious."
Almost certainly the Tigers will have to make a move to add another pitcher. The only starter on the 40-man roster pitching at Triple-A Toledo is right-hander Matt Manning, the No. 3 ranked prospect according MLBPipeline.
They may have to add a bullpen arm, as well, after the labors Monday night.
Joe Jimenez, working his fourth game in five days, struck out Salvador Perez and got Jorge Soler to end the third inning.
After rookie Jason Foley gave up an RBI double to Hanser Alberto in the fourth inning, Alex Lange was given the fifth. He didn’t finish it.
He motioned for Teter after giving up a one out, RBI double to Soler. Lange left with what the Tigers called right shoulder discomfort.
Kyle Funkhouser, who started on Sunday and threw 33 pitches in 2.2 innings, came in with runners at second and third. He walked Hunter Dozier but struck out Kelvin Gutierrez and got Edward Olivares to ground out to maintain the Tigers’ five-run lead.
"Funk is player of the game in my opinion," Fulmer said. "He was awesome. After starting and going two and two-thirds, it's tough to come back from that and answer the call. But that's what he did, in a crucial spot in the game."
Hinch said Funkhouser came to him before the game and said he'd be available if they needed him.
"I told (pitching coach Chris) Fetter before the game that I felt pretty good," Funkhouser said. "He said, 'Well, you had a pretty big day yesterday. You will probably be like a 911 emergency-type guy today. That was our pre-game comment.
"But I guess when nature calls. Today was one of those emergency-type days."
The Royals added another run in the sixth off right-hander Buck Farmer. Farmer got a clutch strikeout of Carlos Santana with runners at second and third and one out, but he walked Salvador Perez to load the bases.
Hinch summoned Jose Cisnero, who walked Soler to force in a run before getting Hunter Dozier to pop out, stranding three runners. The Royals left 13 runners on the bases.
Cisnero worked a scoreless seventh, as well.
The freshest arm in the bullpen worked a scoreless eighth. Fulmer, just activated off the injured list after missing the entire month with shoulder soreness, hit 98 mph with his first pitch. He gave up a lead-off single to Whit Merrifield but struck out Santana and got Perez to hit into a 5-4-3 double-play.
"We've asked a ton out of these guys," Hinch said. "I have a lot of guys pitching three out of four days, guys pitching multiple innings in high leverage. But they've responded. They want the ball with the game on the line.
"They stranded double-digit runners tonight, that alone is a victory, let alone all the outs they got."
Daniel Norris worked a scoreless ninth. The nine pitchers used in a nine-inning victory is the most in club history.
It was a good night for the offense to perk up.
After being subdued by White Sox starters Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon the last two days, the Tigers unleashed a little pent-up fury on Royals right-hander Brad Keller, putting up four runs in the first inning.
Miguel Cabrera, who had an active night, poked an RBI single up the middle, winning an 11-pitch battle. He fouled off five straight 3-2 pitches. It was his longest at-bat since a 13-pitch battle against Felix Hernandez on Aug. 10, 2016 (per Statcast).
Niko Goodrum had a broken-bat, two-run single in the inning. Then in the eighth, he unloaded on a 93-mph fastball from reliever Earvin Santana. The ball traveled 426 feet into the seats in left-center — a three-RBI night for Goodrum.
In the fourth inning, Willi Castro locked onto a 1-0 change-up from Keller and drove it 418 feet into the Royals bullpen in right field, a two-run shot, his fifth on the season.
Cabrera, on a 93-degree night, got his cardio work in for sure. In the first inning, he went first to third on a single by Nomar Mazara and scored on Goodrum’s single. In the fifth inning he singled, went to third on a double by Eric Haase, and then tagged and scored on a sacrifice fly to right by Mazara.
He delivered his third single of the game in the ninth, scoring Jonathan Schoop from second with two outs. Robbie Grossman led off the ninth with his ninth home run of the season.
"The managerial instinct is you want to reward your team with a win by handling the pitching staff and I tried to do the best I could," Hinch said. "It was completely unfair to use Funk and Joe today. I didn't want to go anywhere near them today, but they both came in and got two big outs.
"I wanted to win the game. I wanted to keep our guys healthy, but I wanted to do my best to reward the players for the effort they put in to win this game tonight."