Tigers' offense quiet in loss to Royals
Verlander denied 17th win despite strong outing
KANSAS CITY -- Jim Leyland hasn't had to use the term "blah" to describe his Tigers much lately. He did Wednesday, in part because Robinson Tejeda put his lineup to sleep.
This wasn't a ranting and raving Leyland talking about a lack of energy, but a manager talking about what a talented but mercurial young pitcher did to his squad on a night when he put everything together. Compared with the previous night, Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Royals was a game in which the Tigers never quite felt in control, even as Tejeda and Justin Verlander dueled for six innings.
"Tonight, they just kicked our tails, basically," Leyland summarized.
After coming to town with a six-game winning streak and a firm hold on the American League Central, Detroit's command over the division has a little less cushion, too. The Tigers' second straight loss in Kansas City cost them a game in the standings, whittling their lead to 5 1/2 over the Twins and 6 1/2 over the White Sox after both teams won Wednesday.
On a date that was a numerical rarity -- 09/09/09 -- the Tigers came within a couple outs of scoring zero runs over nine innings and being shutout for the first time in a month. Alex Avila's sacrifice fly off Joakim Soria scored the run, but didn't come close to changing the outcome.
The nature of the Tigers' offense this year has left Leyland struggling at times to credit the opposing pitcher. This wasn't one of those nights.
"We just didn't muster any offense at all, and a lot of that had to do with Tejeda," Leyland said. "We've kind of had a couple blah days. That's all part of it."
Considering Verlander's 9-1 career record against the Royals, including two wins in as many meetings this year, he wasn't expected to play this part. Even on a night when he bemoaned his stuff, he put together enough to salvage a statistically solid start, six innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts. Yet the man who nearly took sole possession of the top spot in the AL in wins, had to play the role of the outpitched as much as the undersupported.
"I battled and tried to keep our guys in it," Verlander said. "That's the game of baseball. You have to tip your cap to the other guy sometimes. Tejeda threw the ball very well. The rest of the bullpen did the rest."
Most of the Tigers remembered Tejeda as the erratic former prospect from Philadelphia and Texas with nasty stuff but scattershot command, a pitcher to lay off and allow to work himself into trouble. Gerald Laird caught Tejeda with the Rangers in 2006 and 2007 and knew what his stuff resembled.
So when Laird trudged back into the dugout on a strikeout thinking he had swung through the fastball, only to find out it was a changeup, it was that kind of night.
"I could've sworn that was his heater," Laird said. "I looked up [at the scoreboard] and it was 86. I was like, 'Wow.' That's one of the better changeups I've seen. His biggest thing, when he's throwing strikes with his fastball, he's going to get a lot of swings with his changeup. That was his problem in Texas."
Others who had seen Tejeda previously, whether around the Majors or in winter ball in the Dominican, had similar praise. He struck out six of Detroit's first eight batters on his way to eight for his night, tying his career high.
Their lone solid scoring chance off of him, maybe a turning point in the game, came after Carlos Guillen doubled leading off the sixth. Miguel Cabrera's groundout, while missing an RBI chance, created a chance to tie the game with one out. But Tejeda induced a line drive to second from Aubrey Huff, eliminating the sacrifice fly opportunity, before fanning Clete Thomas on a 98 mph fastball.
"We had a shot," Leyland said, "and we hit it right at the guy."
Verlander (16-8), meanwhile, stranded seven runners over six innings, including leaving the bases loaded in the second. Compared with his usual script, where he starts out with mid-90s fastballs before building to 99-100 mph heaters later, he hit 98 mph to leadoff man David DeJesus and 100 mph four times in the second. He had to, he said.
"I did all I could with what I had tonight," Verlander said. "I wasn't very good at any aspect of the game. Fastball control wasn't there. Breaking ball was horrible. My changeup was decent. That's about it. You go out there and you know it's going to be one of those days."
It still nearly ended up a scoreless duel entering the late innings, if not for a play at the plate. Billy Butler, now 11-for-26 off Verlander, extended the third inning with one of those opposite-field doubles that has driven Tigers pitchers crazy this season.
"He was very strong tonight," Butler said of Verlander. "I would say that's why he was erratic. He was throwing very hard and had tremendous stuff and was almost throwing through his stuff. He was impressive when he had it in the zone."
Mike Jacobs saw a backup curveball and grounded it through the right side, sending Butler home. Thomas' throw went up the line, but Laird still nearly made a play out of it before the ball dribbled away from him.
"I looked and I kind of felt where the throw was, I thought he might've been right there," Laird said. "The thing is, he kind of went wider than I thought."
An insurance run off Bobby Seay and three more runs off closer Fernando Rodney, who pitched the eighth to get in some work, sealed it. But it felt over before that. It felt blah.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.