Tigers pound Royals, 10-3, for series sweep, sixth straight victory

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers have won six games in a row to tie their longest winning streak of the season.

A four-run fifth inning, highlighted by Javier Báez’s 16th home run of the season, bolstered an early lead in Thursday’s 10-3 win to sweep the Kansas City Royals in three games at Comerica Park.

“There’s been some energy,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Winning always helps. There’s an influx of some new guys that are trying to put on a show. But overall, it’s literally playing better in all facets and playing competent baseball. That’s where things have definitely picked up.”

The Tigers (63-92), by winning eight of their past nine games, jumped the Royals by half a game for fourth place in the American League Central. For the first time since Aug. 3, the Tigers aren’t in last place in the division.

More good news: Thursday’s victory guaranteed the Tigers won’t lose 100 games this season.

“We never talked about it,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “It was an obvious thing that we knew was a possibility, which, unfortunately, is the reality of where we’re at. I did joke around with a couple guys that I’ve played on some bad teams before, but I’ve never lost 100 games. Thankfully, that’s not going to happen.”

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Barnhart finished 3-for-3 with one walk and two RBIs.

“It’s not the year that I would have liked,” Barnhart said, “but I owe it to myself and the team to do as much as I can to finish strong.”

In his 16th start, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez put the Tigers on the right track by completing 6⅔ scoreless innings, throwing 64 of 102 pitches for strikes. The 29-year-old allowed five hits and four walks with three strikeouts.

“I felt like everything was working really well for the first five innings,” Rodriguez said. “My changeup was working really good, the sinker, the cutter. All my pitches were going where I wanted to throw them.”

The Royals advanced a runner into scoring position in the first, second, third, sixth and seventh innings but failed to score until the eighth. Rodriguez walked three batters in the seventh but benefited from a double play between the first two free passes. His two-out walk of Bobby Witt Jr. led to Hinch’s pitching change.

Right-handed reliever Jason Foley cleaned up Rodriguez’s mess in the seventh with a groundout. Rodriguez generated 14 swings and misses, including seven from his changeup, while the Royals averaged an 81.9 mph exit velocity on 22 balls in play.

“This is the best way to end the season, winning games and keeping the chemistry for next year,” Rodriguez said. “There’s no better way to finish the season than what we’re doing right now.”

Foley surrendered three runs in the eighth inning.

The offense backed Rodriguez early on, thanks to Willi Castro’s solo home run to right-center field in the second inning. His eighth homer of the year put the Tigers ahead 1-0 against Royals right-hander Jonathan Heasley.

Heasley gave up five runs (four earned runs) on six hits and one walk with one strikeout over 4⅔ innings.

Breaking big in the fifth

The Tigers chased Heasley in the fifth inning, which began with a eight-pitch walk to Barnhart. He moved up to second on a wild pitch. After Ryan Kreidler struck out, Akil Baddoo grounded to to first base for what could have been the second out.

A fielding error by Vinnie Pasquantino changed the entire inning.

As the ball shot past Pasquantino, Barnhart scored from second base to extend the Tigers’ lead to 2-0. The next batter, Riley Greene, doubled to right field with a 111.3 mph exit velocity to score Baddoo from first for a 3-0 margin.

Then, Báez launched a no-doubt, two-run home run to left field, with the ball traveling 379 feet.

“I didn’t love our game plan early because we swung early, and there were a lot of quick outs,” Hinch said. “If you’re going to go with the ambush, you want to try to get some things started. We stayed with it, which I can appreciate. … What we’ve done better offensively is we’ve hung in there until opportunities present themselves.”

With two outs, Jonathan Schoop cranked his 23rd double to force a pitching change. Right-handed reliever Taylor Clarke replaced Heasley and struck out Victor Reyes to end the fifth inning.

Piling on late

Facing righty Brad Keller in the sixth, the Tigers quickly tacked on an insurance run for a 6-0 lead. Jeimer Candelario doubled — his 19th of the year — and scored on Tucker Barnhart’s ensuing bloop single.

The first three batters in the seventh — Báez (single), Harold Castro (seven-pitch walk) and Schoop (10-pitch walk) —loaded the bases against righty Max Castillo before righty Luke Weaver took over for a matchup with Reyes.

A Reyes hit-by-pitch, Candelario sacrifice fly, Barnhart double and Kreidler single added four more runs to make it 10-0 after seven.

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