Drew Smyly stymies Royals hitters as Detroit Tigers win 9-2

The list is long and distinguished. There are All-Stars such as Max Scherzer and Chris Sale. There are also-rans, like Kevin Correia and Dustin McGowan. Then there are novices like Kyle Gibson and, after a 9-2 loss Saturday night to Detroit, Drew Smyly.

All share a common bond: They have muffled the Royals’ offense, one of the least productive units in baseball.

On Saturday the Royals collected just two hits in seven innings against Smyly on a gorgeous night at Kauffman Stadium.

Making his third start since 2012, Smyly rendered his hosts helpless. The Royals looked lost on a day when their bullpen kept the ferocious Tigers lineup at bay — for a while.

When asked what he saw from his offense, manager Ned Yost was succinct.

“Not much,” he said.

Reeling with a three-game losing streak, and still winless in 2014 against their chief competition in the American League Central, the Royals, 14-15, face the prospect of a sweep at the hands of their division rivals.

Justin Verlander starts today for Detroit. He will face an offense that has cooled off after dropping 19 runs in two games against Toronto this past week.

The Royals scored a pair of runs in the ninth after rookie reliever Aaron Brooks took a six-run pounding in the top of the inning. When the game mattered, they came up empty. Yet they remain fiery, unwilling to concede their troubles.

When a reporter suggested to first baseman Eric Hosmer the team had hit a “downturn,” his tone was genial but incredulous.

“Downturn?” said Hosmer, who doubled twice on Saturday. “It’s two games. That’s what starts it, is you guys saying that stuff. We’re fine. It’s two games. We’ll come back (today), get a good win off Verlander, get a lot of momentum running into San Diego.”

The offense folded on an evening when the bullpen recorded extended duty.

Danny Duffy made his first start of the season and turned in four useful innings before reaching his 75-pitch limit. He allowed a run on two hits and four walks.

“Personally, I felt pretty good about it,” Duffy said. “But we came out with the L. So I’m not too stoked.”

The Royals cannot match Detroit’s offensive firepower. Six Tigers entered Saturday’s game with a slugging percentage above .400. Only second baseman Omar Infante met that criteria for the Royals.

To combat the Tigers, the overlords of the Central since 2011, the Royals mounted a campaign this season based on the agility of their defense, the resourcefulness of their bullpen and the expected maturation of their young hitters.

Thus far this season, the Royals are 0-4 against Detroit. The Tigers bloodied James Shields on Friday. On Saturday they chased Duffy and then feasted on the bullpen.

For now, Duffy is a temporary replacement for injured starter Bruce Chen. A bulging disk forced Chen onto the disabled list.

Duffy is expected to start again Thursday, but Yost has otherwise configured his rotation so he will not need a fifth starter again until May 17.

The Detroit monster roared to life in the second inning. Victor Martinez slashed a leadoff double. Torii Hunter walked on five pitches. A 2-0 count to Austin Jackson brought pitching coach Dave Eiland to the mound.

One prescient fan condensed Eiland’s message and broadcast it aloud.

“Throw strikes!” the spectator shouted.

The next pitch from Duffy was a 94-mph fastball on Jackson’s hands. He popped out. Duffy netted a ground-out and a strikeout and escaped the jam.

In the fourth inning, Duffy displayed his most vexing trait, an inability to throw strikes. He entered the inning at 47 pitches, then proceeded to walk three of the first four batters.

The bases were loaded with one out when rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos stung a liner toward left fielder Alex Gordon. On third base stood Miguel Cabrera. He is one of the planet’s best hitters. As a runner, he is far less distinguished.

Yet, Cabrera broke for home anyway. The aggression worked. Gordon feigned a throw toward second base in an attempt to pick off Martinez, but no one was on the bag. In one motion, Gordon flung a wayward throw home, and Cabrera scored with ease.

“I was off balance,” Gordon said. “Just a good play by them.”

In the sixth, Kelvin Herrera yielded a two-run double to Castellanos. The runs were charged to Louis Coleman. Facing Smyly, a three-run lead appeared untouchable.

The season is still young, with plenty of time for this offense to lock into a consistent production. But for now, Yost will have to deal with the consistent inconsistency.

“We’ve got through this before,” Yost said. “It’s been like this the last couple of years, where you don’t ever think you’re going to score a run again, and then ‘Bam!’ you go on a tear for two weeks. And then we start to slow down again. It’s the way the baseball season goes.”

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