The Kansas City Royals are in an unfamiliar position atop the AL Central and hope to make a big statement against the two-time defending division champions.
That may be difficult in a place that has given them fits lately, though the Detroit Tigers are hardly playing well.
Wade Davis will try to help the Royals end their seven-game skid in Detroit in the opener of this rain-shortened series Wednesday night when he opposes Max Scherzer , whose Tigers look to avoid a fifth straight loss.
Kansas City (10-7), which hasn't won a division title since 1985, had dropped four of six before coming through with a doubleheader sweep in Boston on Sunday. Following a 4-2 victory in the opener, Billy Butler hit a game-tying homer in the eighth inning and Lorenzo Cain walked with the bases loaded in the 10th of a 5-4 win in the second game.
That was the last time the Royals played. With three scheduled days off and rain Tuesday providing a second postponement since Friday, Kansas City has been off five of the past nine days.
"It feels almost like getting at-bats for the first time in spring again," Butler said. "Except these ones count. I'm sure in their own respect it's affecting the pitchers, too."
Butler's team didn't have many good at-bats in losing its final seven games at Comerica Park last season, hitting .216 with seven walks and 67 strikeouts. Kansas City has lost 12 of 15 in Detroit and now looks to avoid its longest losing streak there since dropping 14 straight between 1987 and 1990.
The Tigers went 13-5 against the Royals last season but enter this three-game set having lost four straight. They've scored six runs in 54 innings over their last five games while batting .191, having suffered a three-game sweep to the Los Angeles Angels over the weekend.
"We have no excuses," said right fielder Torii Hunter , who was hitting .418 before going 1 for 7 in the last two games.
Hunter is 3 for 7 with two doubles against Davis (2-0, 2.25), but the right-hander enters this matchup having thrown 12 scoreless innings over his last two outings while striking out 13.
Scherzer (1-0, 2.84) also is coming off a pair of impressive starts, with 23 strikeouts over 14 innings as he limited Oakland and Seattle to two earned runs.
Scherzer is 12-2 with a 2.58 ERA in his last 23 starts - including the 2012 playoffs - and went 2-0 in three starts against the Royals last season as he gave up four runs over 17 innings.
Should the Tigers (9-9) wind up in a situation where they need a save Wednesday, they'll turn to a familiar face. Detroit on Tuesday agreed to a one-year contract with Jose Valverde , who saved 84 games for the Tigers over the past two seasons.
Detroit was ready to let Valverde leave as a free agent after his poor postseason, but he never signed elsewhere and the Tigers brought him back on a minor league deal. Valverde pitched three scoreless innings at Class-A Lakeland.
Detroit may not need Valverde, whom manager Jim Leyland said would start closing immediately, if Davis pitches like he did in his first career start at Comerica. Davis surrendered home runs to Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila and gave up five runs over six innings while not receiving a decision in a 7-6 loss for Tampa Bay in 2011.
Cabrera and Avila are a combined 4 for 17 against Davis, but each hit was a homer.
|Kansas City Royals|
|March 31, 2013||Danny Duffy||15-Day DL||Recovery from left elbow surgery|
|February 12, 2013||Felipe Paulino||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|April 21, 2013||Octavio Dotel||Day-to-Day||Elbow inflammation|
|April 20, 2013||Octavio Dotel||15-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|April 09, 2013||Victor Martinez||Day-to-Day||Lacerated right thumb|
|March 22, 2013||Avisail Garcia||15-Day DL||Bruised right heel|
DETROIT (AP) -- For the Detroit Tigers , it felt like 2011 again.
Two of the key components of that year's AL Central division champs reunited Wednesday night to help the Tigers beat the Kansas City Royals 7-5. Victor Martinez drove in a pair of runs and Jose Valverde returned to Detroit with a save.
Martinez missed all of last season with a knee injury, and entered the game hitting .182. On a 39-degree night, he was robbed of extra bases by Eric Hosmer in his first at-bat, but he had an RBI double in the third and a run-scoring single in the fourth.
"I felt good out there... and I got some balls to fall in," he said. "It wasn't fun out there in this weather, not at all, but the important thing was getting some hits and winning a game."
Valverde, called up earlier in the day, returned to the Tigers with a perfect ninth inning. Valverde lost the closing role during last season's postseason and wasn't offered a contract, but signed a minor-league deal earlier this month and returned to Detroit after a short minor-league stint.
"This wasn't a first day - I've been here for four years," he said. "I just missed a couple weeks of weather like this."
Valverde threw 18 pitches, all fastballs.
"I'd like to see one of you throw a splitter on a day like this," he joked. "Tomorrow, maybe I'll throw a split or two, but today I had my cutter and my sinker."
Max Scherzer (2-0) earned the win, allowing five runs in five innings, while Wade Davis (2-1) took the loss, giving up seven runs - three earned - in 3 2/3 innings. Davis allowed eight hits and four walks while only getting 11 outs.
"Pitchers need to be able to feel the ball with their fingertips - that's how they are able to manipulate it," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. "When it is this cold, you can't do that. I'm sure that was a big part of Wade's problem, but it didn't help Scherzer, either. Everyone has the same problems on a day like this."
The Tigers took the lead on Omar Infante 's RBI single in the second, but Kansas City responded with four runs in the third. Salvador Perez and Chris Getz started the inning with singles, and Alex Gordon tied the game with a double. Alcides Escobar and Billy Butler made it 3-1 with RBI singles, giving the Royals five straight hits, and Hosmer drove in the fourth run with a long sacrifice fly.
The Tigers added two more in their half of the third on a Martinez RBI double and Jhonny Peralta 's run-scoring single. Martinez tried to score from second on Peralta's double, and was beaten so badly by Jeff Francoeur 's throw from right that he veered off for the dugout and was called out for leaving the basepath.
"I saw the catcher get the ball, and I was halfway to the plate," he said. "There was no reason to do anything stupid - I want to keep playing baseball."
Detroit took control in the fourth when Infante scored on a Moustakas error and Miguel Cabrera followed with a tie-breaking sacrifice fly. Martinez added an RBI single, chasing Davis, but Luis Mendoza walked the next two batters to force in a seventh run.
The Royals loaded the bases with no one out in the fifth, but only scored once, and couldn't get anything after putting two runners on in the seventh.
"That fifth inning really hurt us," Yost said. "We did some nice things to get the bases loaded, and then we only got one run out of it. We had a couple chances after that, and never did anything, so we only ended up with the one big inning."
NOTES: The game started on time, despite rain and snow showers throughout the day. Neither team took batting practice, but the skies cleared as the evening went on. The last few innings were played under a full moon with the temperature dropping through the 30s. ... The Tigers officially purchased Valverde's contract before the game, and designated Duane Below for assignment. ... The Royals came into Wednesday having only played on two of the previous six days, thanks to the police situation Friday in Boston and Tuesday's rainout in Detroit.