After his first start when he gave up five runs and three homers against the Angels, Bruce Chen rebounded, pitching 6 scoreless inning and striking out seven. The Tigers mustered just three hits and a walk, and didn’t get a runner to second base until the 6th inning – and the Royals got the third out on the play anyway.
The bullpen held the lead for the last three innings and a team effort everywhere led to the win.
For a while, the lackluster matchup of Chen vs. Phil Coke looked like a marquee pitcher’s duel. After giving up a hit in the 3rd, Chen shut down the next ten batters while Coke rebounded from two rough first innings where the Royals worked his pitch count and scored twice to retire 12 in a row including a stretch of seven outs recorded on 16 pitches.
The Tigers almost got on the scoreboard in the sixth after a Will Rhymes single and Ordonez double looked like it would lead to a run, but Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar made a great relay and got a perfect throw to Brayan Pena who had the plate blocked and got the out (he bobbled the throw but the umpire gave him the out, and anyway, Rhymes still hasn’t touched homeplate.)
Escobar also added a nice play on a Rhymes grounder and despite putting the throw in front of first base, Kila Ka’aihue picked it to end the third.
It was that kind of day where the Royals weren’t at their best, but they did enough as a team to get the win. Everyone in the lineup, save Melky Cabrera (who struck out twice, grounded into a double play and fouled out to left), got on base or contributed to a run. Even Escobar, while going 0-3, got a run in on a ground out and later, when Coke was dismissing Royals batters in two pitch at bats, worked a full count before grounding out in the 5th.
Billy Butler was the best hitter on the day, reaching three times on a walk, a single, and a double. In another ballpark but Comerica, his drive in the top of the 3rd may have left the yard, but it was instead corralled by Austin Jackson. His double was the only extra base hit of the Royals five on the day.
Aaron Crow continued his poised performance at the big league level, coming in in the 7th after Chen to face Cabrera and Victor Martinez. He retired them both without incident and came out in the 8th inning after freezing Brandon Inge with a slider. Tim Collins relieved and walked Brennan Boesch but made Austin Jackson look silly on a changeup for a big strikeout. He walked Rhymes on a close pitch and gave way to Robinson Tejeda. With the bases loaded and Ordonez up, the Tigers had their best chance to win, but Tejeda got one in on the hands and Ordonez popped out on one pitch.
Joakim Soria worked the 9th to get the save, giving up a homer to Ryan Raburn but otherwise looked good, striking out Cabrera on a big slow curve. He touched 92 mph on a fastball or two, and looked pretty sharp, so that alleviates some of my concerns after his meltdown on Wednesday. I’m 95% sure he’ll be fine.
One big concern from the game though: Kila Ka’aihue is not going to hit left-handers who have a big sharp curveball. He looked ridiculous on Saturday against Coke, who threw twelve pitches to him and all but one was a curve. Kila struck out badly on three curves in the 2nd inning, on three more in the 4th and was at 0-1 after a curve when the Royals ran Billy Butler (and after seven curves to Kila, it’s worth a shot, I guess) when Coke threw a fastball. Butler was gunned down to end the inning, but when Kila came back up in the 7th, Coke again fed him curveballs and he missed every one. It’s a concern for the future, since if he can’t hit that pitch, it makes him almost useless against most lefties unless he makes adjustments. He walked later, taking four curves from lefty Brad Thompson, so maybe that’s the first step.
Mike Aviles had the day off after being off yesterday as well. He’s struggled and is clearly frustrated. He’s 2-6 lifetime against tomorrow’s starter Rick Porcello, so if he gets the start, he’s at least hit him in the past, even if it’s in limited time.
The Royals will send Luke Hochevar to the mound who has given up eight earned runs in 11.2 innings pitched.