Detroit Tigers observations: Pitching woes spoil home opener in 14-6 loss to Royals

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

For the first time in 40 years, the Detroit Tigers played a home opener at night.

That wasn't even close to the most unusual aspect of Monday's game, as the only form of non-player cheers in a fanless Comerica Park came from sidewalk spectators clinging to the metal fence beyond the center field concourse.

Then again, the Tigers (2-2) didn't give them much to celebrate about in a 14-6 loss against the Kansas City Royals.

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Tigers right fielder Cameron Maybin doubles against Royals pitcher Mike Montgomery during the second inning at Comerica Park on Monday, July 27, 2020.

The last time the Tigers played a night home opener, on April 18, 1980, they lost to the Royals, 9-6. This year, the eight-run deficit made them losers of two of their last three home openers.

[Coronavirus stole something special from Tigers fans: An Al Kaline tribute]

Here's what stood out in Monday's home opener:

Fulmer back after 22 months

It's been a long time coming for right-handed pitcher Michael Fulmer. He reached the pinnacle of his young career by winning the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year as a 23-year-old. 

He grew up, then he had Tommy John surgery, which forced him to miss the entire 2019 season. But Fulmer, 27, got back on the mound in a big-league game Monday for the first time since Sept. 15, 2018.

[ Tigers' Michael Fulmer ready to join rotation: 'Probably as an opener type' ]

Through two innings, Fulmer's performance was rusty — nothing more, nothing less. His stuff was there, and he utilized his slider to strike out Jorge Soler and Ryan O'Hearn. After Maikel Franco caught on by homering off an 88 mph slider, Fulmer attacked Alex Gordon and Franchy Cordero with seven fastballs and one changeup — two quick outs.

Just a little rough around the edges.

Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer throws a pitch during the first inning against the Royals at Comerica Park on Monday, July 27, 2020.

Until the third inning. The right-hander gave up a leadoff homer to Whit Merrifield. Two batters later, Salvador Perez crushed a 434-foot moonshot to the bushes in center field, which ultimately led to Fulmer's removal.

He wasn't expected to go more than three innings, but Gardenhire had seen enough after 47 pitches (28 strikes). In 2⅔ innings, he gave up four runs on five hits and one walk with two strikeouts.

A slew of MLB debuts

Getting early action probably wasn't much of a surprise to right-hander Kyle Funkhouser, who replaced Fulmer for his big-league debut. The first batter he faced, Franco, singled to center before the 26-year-old got Gordon to fly out to end the inning.

His second frame resembled his 8.53 ERA performance for Triple-A Toledo last season — double, walk, double to start the fourth. Funkhouser showed the promise of getting out of the jam with two outs, but he walked Perez on seven pitches to load the bases. O'Hearn made him pay with a two-run single for a 7-5 lead.

Funkhouser's final line: five runs on four hits and two walks in one inning.

Fellow right-hander Beau Burrows didn't do much better in his debut, either. He gave up a three-run home run to Franco, of which all but one run counted against Funkhouser. In the fifth, Soler went deep to make it a 12-5 game. 

Burrows' final line: three runs on three hits and one walk in 2⅓ innings. Meanwhile, right-hander Anthony Castro made his MLB debut in the ninth inning.

One Kansas City pitcher also made his major league debut: left-hander Foster Griffin, a first-round pick from the 2014 draft. He left in the fourth inning with a forearm strain.

Jones continues power surge

After a catch against the center field wall in Sunday's game, JaCoby Jones wasn't supposed to play the home opener due to a sore back. But when he walked in the clubhouse, he told Gardenhire he wanted in.

Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones hits a three-run homer against Royals pitcher Mike Montgomery during the second inning at Comerica Park on Monday, July 27, 2020.

So the third-year manager made a few changes and got Jones in the lineup.

It paid off?

With a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the second, Jones smoked an 81 mph changeup to left field for a three-run homer. It was his second home run of the season, with the first coming Saturday in the ninth inning to give the Tigers a 6-4 win against the Cincinnati Reds.

Jones finished the game 2-for-4 with 3 RBIs.

Tigers honor Kaline

Before the game, the Tigers honored Hall of Famer Al Kaline, who spent all 22 years of his MLB career in Detroit. Nicknamed "Mr. Tiger," he debuted in 1953 and stayed around the clubhouse until his death on April 6 at 85 years old.

[ The coronavirus stole something special from Detroit Tigers fans: An Al Kaline tribute ]

Along with a three-minute tribute video, the Tigers raised a flag beyond the left-center field wall to honor Kaline. One of his close friends, Jose Feliciano, performed the national anthem. All players and coaches stood.

"I love you, Al Kaline," Feliciano, a Puerto Rican musician notable for his anthem performance at the 1968 World Series in Detroit, said at the end of the video.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold