Opportunities few and far between for Royals

Opportunities few and far between for Royals

Opportunities few and far between for Royals
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander has a long history of mastery over the Royals. Mix in the Tigers' burning need for a victory and there's a formula for exactly what happened on Monday night.

Verlander pitched eight innings to beat Kansas City once again, 6-2, and the Tigers did what was necessary for their pursuit of the American League Central championship. The win gave the Tigers' big right-hander a 15-2 career record over the Royals.

The Tigers stayed one game behind the first-place Chicago White Sox, who also won.

Billy Butler had three of the Royals' nine hits off Verlander, who struck out eight with no walks.

"He's always tough like that, and he's pitching with a little more life," Butler said. "They're fighting for the playoffs, so you know you're going to get his best."

In three previous starts against the Royals this season, Verlander was 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA -- not quite his usual overpowering self. But almost certainly the tight race figured into his approach.

"Maybe it fueled him a little bit more," said Alex Gordon, who pounded a homer to left field for the Royals' first run. "He was throwing harder from the get-go than we've seen him the last couple of starts. They're in a pennant chase and they're trying to make the playoffs. I'm sure there's a lot of energy over there. But there's energy here, too, so we're going to try to play them hard the next three games and make it a good series."

Prince Fielder, who's been tough on the Royals all year, led off the Tigers' second inning with a home run into the right-field seats off Royals starter Luke Hochevar. That gave Fielder three homers and 12 RBIs against KC.

"I tried to go in on him and got it in there, and he whacked it. Sometimes that happens," Hochevar said.

Hochevar got two outs, but there was a runner at second base, Jhonny Peralta, and he scored on Alex Avila's double deep into the right-center gap for a 2-0 Tigers lead.

"Until the eighth inning, there were two balls hit hard off him -- Fielder and Avila -- but give them credit, they found holes," Royals manager Ned Yost said of Hochevar. "He gave up hits, but they weren't of the hard-hit variety."

The Royals seemed to have something brewing in the fifth, when Jeff Francoeur and Johnny Giavotella each singled around an out to put runners at the corners. That's when the Tigers had a few uneasy moments after a strange incident.

Following a pitch to Jarrod Dyson, catcher Avila was in the process of returning the ball to Verlander when his hand brushed the outstretched hand of umpire Bill Welke, who had just called a strike. That caused Avila's throw to hit the ground and Verlander lunged to keep the ball from rolling past the mound and letting Francoeur score, not realizing that Welke had already called time out. In the process, Verlander jammed his left shoulder and manager Jim Leyland and a trainer rushed out to evaluate the star pitcher. Verlander took a practice toss, decided he was OK and proceeded to strike out both Dyson and Alcides Escobar.

"We had a chance to tie it in the fifth, but Verlander made some quality pitches there to get out of it," Yost said. "He threw the ball extremely well."

The Tigers pushed across two runs in the fifth and added single runs in the sixth and eighth. Hochevar hung in there through 7 1/3 innings.

Despite the victory, the Tigers managed to get three runners thrown out on the bases, two by center fielder Dyson and one by Gordon from left field. Dyson made a sliding catch in the first inning and doubled up a runner at first base. Dyson got his eighth assist throwing out Peralta trying for a double in the fifth.

This from a guy who's supposed to throw guardedly because of shoulder and lat problems that troubled him for a while.

"I didn't think the throws were that strong. The second one I felt just a pinch, but they just told me to take it easy a little bit," Dyson said. "But I didn't expect two outfield assists tonight."

Gordon threw out Austin Jackson at third, also in the fifth inning, after catching a ball that right fielder Francoeur threw past second base. That gave the Royals a Major League-leading 48 outfield assists this season.

But they had more outfield assists than runs in this game, thanks to Verlander.

"He was really good tonight, just strike after strike after strike," Yost said. "He really didn't even come close to walking anybody."

"A guy like that, sometimes he's on, throwing everything for strikes and we never really got in hitters' counts," Gordon said. "He pitched well tonight, he was a lot sharper tonight than the last time we faced him."

Butler seems to be the only Royals hitter who can solve Verlander. In his career, Butler is 21-for-53 (.396) off him with two homers, four doubles and nine RBIs.

"We don't need to talk about Butler," Verlander said. "He's one out of nine. If you get the other guys out, so be it. It's singles. He hits singles, he's slow, it's going to take three hits to score him. Or a double and a hit, so it is what it is. I don't like giving up hits to anybody, but if he's slow, I'm a little bit better off."

Indeed, Butler didn't cross the plate, but he did drive in Alcides Escobar, who doubled, with KC's second run in the eighth.

That wasn't nearly enough, though. Jose Valverde pitched a perfect ninth to complement Verlander's performance. There's an additional element that's needed when facing a pitcher like Verlander.

"You've got to have a little luck, and we didn't have any luck tonight," Yost said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.