Mistakes on bases hurt Detroit Tigers in 3-1 loss to Kansas City Royals

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers recorded back-to-back doubles in the seventh inning but couldn’t produce a run in what turned out to be their final scoring opportunity Friday night.

Facing Kansas City Royals reliever Jake Brentz, Niko Goodrum slapped a fastball into right field. Third base coach Ramon Santiago waved Goodrum around second base, a product of manager AJ Hinch’s aggressive approach, but Goodrum hesitated rounding second and was thrown out at third base.

The next batter, Victor Reyes, doubled to left field. He was stranded by consecutive strikeouts from pinch-hitter Daz Cameron and Jonathan Schoop.

Had Goodrum not made his mistake, he would have tied the game on Reyes’ double. Instead, the Royals kept their opponent scoreless in the seventh inning, tacked on a third run in the eighth and handed the Tigers a 3-1 loss in the series opener at Comerica Park.

“We were pretty indecisive on the bases,” Hinch said. “Those weren’t aggressive mistakes. Those were a little indecisiveness, and it cost us. It looked like Niko got to second and was pulling up, and then Ramon thought he could make it, so Niko got a little bit of a late start and got thrown out. It was a frustrating night on the bases.”

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In the sixth inning, the Tigers (74-79) evened the score, 1-1, with two outs against Royals reliever Domingo Tapia. Robbie Grossman (walk) and Miguel Cabrera (single, hit No. 2,980 in his career) waited at first and second base, respectively, through a pair of outs.

Finally, Eric Haase drilled a two-strike RBI single down the right-field line.

Haase turned the corner and started running toward second base. He seemed to think he had enough time to extend a single into a double. Halfway between the bases, Haase slammed on the breaks and tumbled to the dirt. In a rundown, the Royals easily tagged him out with Cabrera on third base.

Kansas City grabbed the lead again, 2-1, in the top of the seventh inning.

The Royals benefited from Ryan O’Hearn’s RBI single off Tigers reliever Alex Lange. Pitching his second inning of work, Lange allowed a one-out triple to Adalberto Mondesi before O’Hearn’s single plated him.

Whit Merrifield’s sacrifice fly pushed the Royals’ lead to 3-1 in the eighth inning.

In the first inning, the Tigers squandered an opportunity to put Royals starter Carlos Hernandez behind. Three of the first five batters reached safely to load the bases: Schoop (hit by pitch), Grossman (walk) and Jeimer Candelario (walk). Harold Castro couldn’t capitalize, lining out to end the inning.

Hernandez needed 30 pitches to complete the first. He then settled in for five scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and three walks.

“We put up really good at-bats, one through nine,” Hinch said. “They made a couple good plays in right field (from Hunter Dozier). Otherwise, this game is completely different, even from the first hitter on, with Akil (Baddoo) into right center, running catch. Bases loaded and Harold hits the ball, hangs up in the air, and he runs underneath that one, too.

“I think our at-bats were pretty good early. He settled in a little bit more. We did make him work. We couldn’t really break through with the big hit.”

Second-to-last start

Rookie right-hander Casey Mize completed three innings in his second-to-last start this season. The 24-year-old has made four shortened starts — all since the beginning of September — as the Tigers aim to protect his short- and long-term health.

Mize will make his final start of 2021 against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

“Health has been an issue for so many players in our game,” Mize said. “There have been a lot of great players who have missed time. I’m fortunate to have not missed time. I’ve been able to go out there every fifth, sixth, seventh day, whatever it is. Definitely taking pride in that, and I’m glad I’ve made it to this point, but I got another one to go.”

Facing the Royals, he allowed one run on two hits across his three frames. He did not concede a walk and struck out three, throwing 30 of 41 pitches for strikes. Kansas City’s lone run off Mize scored in the third on Merrifield’s sacrifice fly.

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Mize pitched perfectly through the first two innings, but the Royals didn’t go away quietly. O’Hearn opened the third with a leadoff single up the middle and advanced to third base on Kyle Isbel’s opposite-field double down the left-field line with one out.

Those at-bats were all Merrifield needed for his sacrifice fly to produce a 1-0 Royals advantage.

“I’m in a 2-0 situation with a runner on first,” Mize said about his matchup with Isbel. “I threw a two-seamer. It’s a high ground-ball pitch for me. I’m trying to get him to roll over and potentially get a double play, but he does a good job and goes the other way. That’s tough. I definitely wish I could have that whole at-bat back.”

Of Mize’s 41 pitches, he used 22 four-seam fastballs, 16 sliders, one two-seam fastball, one splitter and one knuckle curve. His fastball-slider approach generated five swings and misses with his heater and one with his breaking ball.

“We’re not giving him enough innings to get all of his repertoire, so I think it’s more of a volume issue with how he’s using his pitches,” Hinch said. “A lot of times, the second time, third time through (the order), you might see a variety of pitches. Giving him one time through is probably a little unfair to him when he wants to use all his pitches.”

Mize has a 3.63 ERA over 29 starts this year.

Urena stays strong in relief

Right-hander Jose Urena transitioned to the bullpen at the beginning of September. Since then, the 30-year-old has a 3.21 ERA (five earned runs) with four walks and eight strikeouts over 14 innings in six relief appearances.

He took over for Mize and continued his success.

“I think he wants to start,” Hinch said. “He’s doing us a service, and he’s taken the ball whenever we’ve handed it to him. He’s a real pro. I love his makeup, his work ethic is off the chart. When you see him one time, it’s hard to hit him.”

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Following a 10-pitch fourth inning, Urena worked around trouble in the fifth. He walked O’Hearn with one out and induced back-to-back ground balls that should have gone for double plays. Castro fumbled Dozier’s grounder as runners advanced to first and second base.

On Isbel’s grounder, the Tigers weren’t quick enough to turn the double play, allowing runners at the corners — O’Hearn on third base and Isbel on first base — for Merrifield, one of the most dangerous hitters in Kansas City’s lineup.

But Urena escaped the jam to conclude his scoreless outing, as Merrifield flied out to left field for the final out. (Before moving to the bullpen, Urena had a 5.96 ERA with 37 walks and 54 strikeouts in 83 innings across 18 starts.)

“He was able to get through a messy inning in his own right,” Hinch said. “I think (the bullpen) is good for him right now. This is the role that we have for him, and I do appreciate the fact that he’s taken it and just pitches whenever we ask him to.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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