Detroit — It’s gone beyond frustrating now. It’s reached the quicksand phase. You know, where the harder you try to climb out the deeper you sink.
“We’re in the trenches together,” manager AJ Hinch said Sunday after the Tigers’ offensive futility continued in a 4-0 loss to the Central Division-leading Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. “It’s aggravating, it’s maddening, it’s frustrating, it’s everything you can think of.
“We’re not going to accept it. It’s not something the guys are just blowing off. We’re trying to find solutions. But the harder you try and you don’t get the results, it continues to weigh on guys.”
It’s 10 games and counting.
“Right now I see a team that’s pressing quite a bit,” Hinch said. “And the harder we try the less effective we’ve been.”
Like being in quicksand.
Lefty starter Danny Duffy shut out the Tigers over five innings and the bullpen took it the rest of the way, with three relievers allowing one single over the final four innings.
“The frustrating part is, we’ve been better than this and we’re going to be better than this,” Hinch said. “But riding it out is very difficult when you are getting punched in the face every day and taking losses.”
In losing nine of their last 10 games, the Tigers have scored exactly 18 runs and been shut out three times. With 13 more Sunday, they have struck out 102 times in that span.
“You want to have good at-bats, you want to have success,” said third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who had two of the team’s five hits. “You don’t work to swing and miss. You work to hit a ball.
“We have to continue to work hard and trust the process. We’re going to come tomorrow expecting to win a ballgame and have some quality at-bats.”
The game turned when the Tigers put together three singles and came up dry in the bottom of the fourth and the Royals pushed across a run with just two singles in the top of the fifth.
Niko Goodrum led off the bottom of the fourth with a single and was thrown out by catcher Salvador Perez trying to steal second. (Take note later for what happens when you don’t control the running game.)
Candelario singled with two outs and Wilson Ramos lined a bullet off the left-field fence that looked like it might bring Candelario home.
But Royals left fielder Andrew Benintendi must’ve had a flashback from his years playing for the Red Sox in front of the Green Monster at Fenway Park. Because he fielded the carom off the fence expertly, not only holding Candelario at third, but holding Ramos to a long single, as well.
“I was running fast and I was thinking I was going to score,” Candelario said. “But he made a really good play off the wall. I had to stop at third.”
Willi Castro struck out to end the inning.
The Royals then broke the scoreless tie in the top of the fifth, cashing in on two singles and a key stolen base. And in the process, they gave rookie lefty Tarik Skubal a lesson in run-game management.
“We talked at the beginning of the series about how much pressure they put on a team; they’re relentless,” Hinch said. “It’s exhausting trying to handle them at first base and second base when their premium runners are on base.
“But that’s baseball and that’s why they’re a winning team.”
Michael A. Taylor led off with a bloop single and Nicky Lopez sacrificed him to second. Skubal had thrown first-pitch off-speed pitches (either a slider or knuckle-curve) to three of the last four hitters.
So when he started Whit Merrifield off with a knuckle-curve, Taylor stole third base easily. He scored when Merrifield blooped one over the Tigers’ drawn-in infield.
“I thought I did a good job (on the Taylor steal), but then I watched it (on video after) and it wasn’t a good job,” Skubal said. “I didn’t manage the run game like I need to.”
For good measure, Merrifield stole second off Skubal without a throw from Ramos. Skubal had thrown over to first three times, too, to hold Merrifield. Skubal buckled down and got Carlos Santana and Perez to end the inning.
Skubal, who worked 2.2 innings in tandem with Michael Fulmer who pitched three scoreless innings on three days of rest, didn’t get out of the sixth inning. Hunter Dozier hit a two-out home run to left and Benintendi singled to end his day.
“From a stuff and pitch-execution standpoint, I thought I did pretty well,” said Skubal, whose fastball sat at 94 mph and hit 97. “I don’t think the results matched how I felt…I missed with one pitch and he hit it out of the yard.”
The Royals tacked on two more off reliever Buck Farmer in the ninth on a two-run single by Carlos Santana. Lopez reached on a shift-busting single and Merrifield on an infield single. Merrifield stole second to set the table for Santana.
The Royals stole four bases and advanced on two wild pitches.
“You see the value of pressure without putting balls in play,” Hinch said.
The bigger issue, though, is the club’s offensive inertia.
“We are at the highest level that we play on and we are expecting more and putting in the work to do more,” Hinch said. “It’s like, you study for the test beforehand and then you go take the test. The tests haven’t been going very well.”