KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mike Mayers, a 31-year-old right-hander, has pitched in parts of eight seasons in the big leagues, primarily as a reliever. He started for just the seventh time in his career Tuesday and shredded the Detroit Tigers.
Mayers, who signed a minor-league contract on the eve of Opening Day, struck out eight batters through four innings and pitched into the fifth for the Kansas City Royals in a matchup with left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez.
The Tigers lost, 4-1, in the second of three games at Kauffman Stadium ahead of Wednesday’s finale.
“He spun the ball a little bit better than maybe we anticipated,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said of Mayers. “We didn’t really make an adjustment to his spin, which was the most frustrating part of it.”
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Once again, the Tigers (21-25) stranded too many runners.
Mayers retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced before Javier Báez’s one-out single in the fourth inning. He struck out Spencer Torkelson (for the second time) on three consecutive sliders, then he walked Nick Maton on six pitches. Matt Vierling hit an infield single to load the bases for Miguel Cabrera.
Cabrera, a future Hall of Famer, grounded into an inning-ending forceout and stranded the bases loaded. Another bases-loaded situation was squandered in the sixth inning when right-handed reliever Jose Cuas struck out Zach McKinstry.
The Tigers finished 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 runners on the bases.
“Two-out ground ball by Miggy would have changed the game if it gets through there,” Hinch said. “A couple other really important at-bats, and we didn’t come through. I mean, they left 11 (runners) on. They did more with the at-bats than we did. We didn’t have a disciplined game really across the board. Frustrating loss.”
Mayers allowed one run on six hits and one walk with eight strikeouts across 4⅔ innings, throwing 54 of 84 pitches for strikes. He threw 36% sliders and generated nine of his 14 whiffs with sliders.
Four Royals relievers kept the Tigers from scoring across the final 4⅓ innings.
“I thought we chased a little bit and got a little bit anxious as at-bats went along and allowed him to dictate the pace of the at-bat with some early count strikes,” Hinch said. “He went fastball really early and then his adjustment was to go to more breaking balls, and that’s how he beat us.”
E-Rod not enough
Pitching for the Tigers, Rodriguez allowed four runs (two earned runs) on eight hits and two walks with nine strikeouts. He battled through the early innings but gave up three runs in the fourth and another run in the fifth.
The fourth inning started with a one-out throwing error by Báez.
Michael Massey drove in the first run of the game when he tagged Rodriguez’s first-pitch fastball for a double to right field, and Massey came around to score on Maikel Garcia’s ensuing single off a second-pitch cutter.
“Errors happen,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think every time someone makes an error it puts pressure on myself. Right away, I was thinking ground-ball double play after the error. It’s not a big deal to me.”
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Trailing 2-0, Rodriguez allowed a single (Jackie Bradley Jr.) and a walk (Nick Pratto) to load the bases.
Salvador Perez extended the Royals’ lead to 3-0 with a sacrifice fly. The Royals upped the margin to 4-0 following Bobby Witt Jr.’s leadoff single in the fifth. He stole second base — his 14th stolen base — and crossed home plate on Edward Olivares’ one-out single to right field.
It was Rodriguez’s second consecutive start allowing four runs.
“They just hunted heaters,” Hinch said. “He threw a lot of them, and he was challenging ball-in-play, and he got burned by it. Generally, he lived and died with it. As the game went on, they adjusted to the fastball and hit heaters.”
Rodriguez, facing a lineup with plenty of left-handed hitters, threw 52% fastballs, 18% sliders, 11% cutters, 10% sinkers and 9% changeups. He generated an impressive 16 whiffs with six four-seamers, six sliders, one cutter, one sinker and two changeups.
“Lefty-lefty slider is one of the best pitchers you can have against lefties,” Rodriguez said. “Fastball was great today. Velocity was good. I felt like I was able to locate it where I wanted. I made probably like two mistakes and paid for it. But the rest of them, I just tip the cap to them because they made good swings.”
One run … and a fun stat
The Tigers chased Mayers in the fifth inning with back-to-back singles from McKinstry and Riley Greene. The Royals brought Cuas out of the bullpen, and on the first pitch, Javier Báez drilled a slider into center field.
McKinstry scored on Báez’s single for the Tigers’ first run. (In Monday’s 8-5 win, Báez delivered a bases-loaded double in the 10th inning.)
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With Greene’s single, the 22-year-old has hit safely in all 17 games he has played against the Royals in his MLB career, which began last season. The stretch is the tied for the third-longest active hitting streak by a player against one team, trailing Freddie Freeman’s 20 vs. the Boston Red Sox and Starling Marte’s 18 vs. the Texas Rangers.
He is tied at 17 games with Cleveland’s Josh Bell vs. the New York Mets.
Maton, by the way, finished 1-for-2 with two walks in Tuesday’s loss.
Contact Evan Petzold at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.