Kansas City, Mo. — The last time the Tigers swept a series in Kansas City, Justin Verlander, Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello were chucking. That was in 2014.
It’s happened again, seven years later, this time with a couple of rookies taking lead on the mound. After Casey Mize subdued the Royals Tuesday night, lefty Tarik Skubal both finessed and powered his way through six strong innings Wednesday as the Tigers completed the three-game sweep with a 6-5 win at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals are reeling, losing six straight and 11 of their last 12. Compounding their woes, starting pitcher Brady Singer left after three innings with shoulder tightness.
Still, the Tigers, who were shut down for three innings by hard-throwing right-hander Carlos Hernandez, trailed 3-1 entering the seventh inning.
Willi Castro changed the narrative with one swing. With Niko Goodrum (walk) on first, he belted a 3-2 slider from reliever Greg Holland nearly into the fountains in right-center field to tie the game. His sixth homer of the season traveled 421 feet.
The Tigers kept scratching. Robbie Grossman singled. Akil Baddoo, who had two hits and a walk, singled. They both moved up on a wild pitch and then Grossman scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch by reliever Scott Barlow.
Castro set up the Tigers’ fifth run, too, in a very different way. After Goodrum singled with one out, he hit a ground ball to the vacated right side of the infield, moving Goodrum to third. Just a traditional good piece of situational hitting that paid off when Goodrum scooted home on yet another wild pitch, this one from lefty Jake Brentz.
Skubal, who keeps looking more polished and composed with each successive start, struck out seven in his six innings. He deftly kept the Royals hitters off balance with his change-up and slider, pairing one or the other off his 96-mph four-seam fastball.
He induced six whiffs on nine swings at his change-up, also getting four called strikes. With his slider, the Royals whiffed on all four swings. In all, Skubal got 16 swings and misses and 10 called strikes.
“Slowly but surely we’re seeing him develop,” manager AJ Hinch said before the game. “We’re in this era where we want these young pitchers to get to the big leagues fast and give us something to dream on, and then we want them to act like they’ve been here for five years and execute every pitch.
“Our patience with him is paying off.”
The three runs off him were produced by home run balls — his one lingering menace this season. Adalberto Mondesi, in his first at-bat after a long stay on the injured list, drove a 1-2 fastball into the left-center field seats. Then with one on in the third, Salvador Perez ambushed a first-pitch change-up for a two-run homer to left.
Skubal has yielded 16 home runs this season, but it has not deterred him from attacking the strike zone.
In fact, his response to the two home runs Wednesday was telling. Not only did he lock the Royals’ offense up over the next three innings, he challenged both of those hitters with the same pitches they hit out in their next at-bats.
He threw a 96-mph fastball by Mondesi in the third inning and got him to roll-over on a curveball. He went right back to the change-up against Perez in the fifth, getting a swinging strike two before punching him out with a heater.
They call that chutzpah.
And speaking of chutzpah, right-handed reliever Bryan Garcia worked his way out of a sticky mess in the bottom of the seventh.
The inning started with an error on Jonathan Schoop at first base. Then Whit Merrifield hit a ground ball to shortstop Goodrum’s right that he dived for and deflected into left field. Garcia, though, bowed his neck. He got a fielder’s choice ground out from Carlos Santana and induced a 5-4-3 double-play from Perez, preserving the 4-3 lead.
It got a little messy for Michael Fulmer in the ninth. With two outs, Merrifield doubled in a run and Carlos Santana singled in another. With speedy Jarrod Dyson pinch-running at first, Fulmer struck out Perez to end the game.
The Tigers banged out 13 hits. Schoop, who has hit safely in 19 of his last 23 games, had three of them and Nomar Mazara had a triple and an RBI single.