Baseball / Sports

Kansas City Royals pitcher Danny Duffy looks to the dugout in the fourth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., on Saurday, May 3, 2014. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT)

Royals' hitters stymied by Smyly and Tigers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The list is long and distinguished. There are All-Stars such as Max Scherzer and Chris Sale. There are also-rans such as Kevin Correia and Dustin McGowan. Then there are novices like Kyle Gibson and, after a 9-2 loss on Saturday night to Detroit, Drew Smyly.

All share a common bond: They muffled the Royals offense, one of the least productive units in baseball. The Royals collected just two hits and no runs in seven innings against Smyly on a gorgeous night at Kauffman Stadium.

Making his third start since 2012, Smyly rendered his hosts helpless.

The Royals looked lifeless on a day when their bullpen kept the ferocious Detroit Tigers lineup at bay -- for a while. Called into emergency duty, Danny Duffy strung together four useful innings, before his lack of command undid him. Louis Coleman was charged with two runs on a double allowed by Kelvin Herrera. Aaron Brooks pitched a scoreless eighth before he gave up six runs in the ninth.

Now the Royals face the prospect of a sweep on Sunday afternoon. At 14-15, they slipped beneath .500 for the first time since April 16.

At 3:30 p.m., the clubhouse was almost empty. Alcides Escobar chatted in Spanish with Salvador Perez. Duffy rocked in his chair. The organization assigned him a difficult task Saturday. They asked him to counteract his own negative momentum, the productive of two consecutive shoddy bullpen performances, and halt a losing skid.

The Tigers bloodied James Shields on Friday. For Sunday's game they slotted their own ace, Justin Verlander. It fell to Duffy to rewrite the script. He exited his chair and fiddled with the speaker system. The soothing tones of reggae boomed throughout the room. Duffy settled back into his seat.

For now, he is a temporary replacement for injured starter Bruce Chena after a bulging disk forced Chen onto the disabled list. Duffy is expected to start again on May 8. But otherwise, manager Ned Yost configured his rotation so he will not need a fifth starter again until May 17.

To combat the Tigers, the overlords of the American League Central since 2011, the Royals mounted a campaign this season based on the agility of their defense, the resourcefulness of their bullpen and the expected maturation of their young hitters. But from a power perspective, they appeared overmatched.

Six Tigers entered Saturday's game with a slugging percentage above .400. Only second baseman Omar Infante met this criterion for the Royals.

The Detroit monster roared to life in the second inning. Victor Martinez slashed a leadoff double. Torii Hunter accepted a five-pitch walk. A 2-0 count to Austin Jackson brought pitching coach Dave Eiland to the mound. One prescient fan condensed Eiland's message and broadcast it aloud. "Throw strikes!" the spectator shouted.

The next pitch from Duffy was a 94-mph fastball on Jackson's hands. He popped out. Duffy netted a ground-out and a strikeout and escaped the jam.

Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer dished an assist in the third. The Tigers' Ian Kinsler was lounging a few steps from first base after a two-out single, chatting with Hosmer, when Duffy picked him off. Duffy shrugged as he walked off the mound. The slightest trace of a smirk crossed his face.

The humor evaporated in the fourth when Duffy displayed his most vexing trait, an inability to throw strikes. He entered the inning at 47 pitches. Then he proceeded to walk three of the first four batters.

The bases were loaded with one out when rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos stung a liner toward left fielder Alex Gordon. On third base stood Miguel Cabrera. He is one of the planet's best hitters. As a runner, he is far less distinguished.

Yet, he broke for home anyway. The aggression worked. Gordon feigned a throw toward second base in an attempt to pick off Martinez. But no one was on the bag. In one motion, he flung a wayward throw home, and Cabrera scored with ease.

When the fourth was over, Duffy had thrown 75 pitches. His day was done.

In came Coleman, who faltered in his second inning of work. Cabrera boomed a leadoff double. Yost ordered an intentional walk of Martinez. Both scored when Castellanos smoked a double past Nori Aoki's outstretched glove in right.

Detroit put the game well out of reach in the ninth with an RBI double by Danny Worth, an RBI sacrifice fly by Ian Kinsler, an RBI single by Cabrera and a three-run home run by Torii Hunter.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Royals jumped on Tigers reliever Phil Coke for two runs on three hits.

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