Detroit Tigers drop fifth straight, lose to Kansas City Royals, 3-2

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers right-hander Spencer Turnbull finished the 2020 season with a 3.97 ERA, the best among his teammates in the rotation.

But he wasn't able to guide his team to a win in his last outing of the year.

The Tigers (22-34) fell behind 3-0 in the fifth inning, and their two runs in the seventh — after Turnbull had departed — weren't enough for a comeback in a 3-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Friday at Kauffman Stadium.

It was the fifth loss in a row by the Tigers, who were eliminated from postseason contention on Thursday.

Starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull (56) of the Detroit Tigers throws in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Sept. 25, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Turnbull gave up three runs on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts. His 82 pitches consisted of 50% four-seam fastballs, 23% sliders, 12% sinkers, 10% curveballs and 5% changeups.

First baseman Brandon Dixon and catcher Eric Haase each drove in a run in the seventh, but their teammates were unable to capitalize down the stretch.

[ Detroit Tigers' Jeimer Candelario's season ends with back injury; Christin Stewart returns ]

Detroit wraps up its schedule with two more games against the Royals. Left-hander Matthew Boyd starts Saturday, followed by lefty rookie Tarik Skubal on Sunday.

The Tigers could make up a postponed doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday, but it will only happen if the Cardinals need one or both games to make the postseason.

Keller turns hot to cold

Entering Friday's game, Miguel Cabrera was 8-for-19 with four homers and 12 RBIs in his past four games. Meanwhile, shortstop Willi Castro was peaking after 34 games, with a .350 average.

They were both shut down by 25-year-old right-hander Brad Keller, who had a career year, with a 2.47 ERA in nine starts. One game after combining to go 6-for-10 with six RBIs, Cabrera and Castro went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts against the third-year pitcher.

[ How Miguel Cabrera has proven he is 'not done' contributing to Tigers ]

Starting pitcher Brad Keller (56) of the Kansas City Royals throws in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium on Sept. 25, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Keller went six scoreless innings, allowing only four hits, before Danny Duffy replaced him to start the seventh. Keller struck out five batters and didn't concede a walk. 

Of his 86 pitches, he threw 47% sliders, 30% four-seam fastballs and 23% sinkers. He produced nine swinging strikes (six with his slider) and 17 called strikes. His fastball averaged 93.4 mph.

Keller's only jam came with runners on first and second in the fifth inning. He worked out of the scare by striking out Haase and forcing third baseman Isaac Paredes into a groundout. 

Speed kills

Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi reached with back-to-back singles in the first inning and gave Turnbull quite the headache on the bases. With Salvador Perez, third in the order, at the plate, Merrifield and Mondesi tried for a double steal.

Third-base umpire Chris Segal called Merrifield out at third base — Haase's throw to Paredes was perfect. But his speed proved to be too much for the naked eye, with a replay overturning the call.

[ Casey Mize's bright Detroit Tigers future remains intact despite struggles ]

Merrifield collected his 12th stolen base, while Mondesi recorded his 23rd this season. Turnbull got Perez to ground out, then intentionally walked Maikel Franco before giving a free pass to Ryan O'Hearn to allow the first run of the game.

In the fifth inning, Mondesi stole his 24th base and scored on Franco's sacrifice fly for a 3-0 lead. Along with the speed, he was 3-for-3 with a walk, falling only a home run short of the cycle.

The Tigers have now allowed 40 stolen bases, only catching eight runners.

"That's a challenge for them," interim manager Lloyd McClendon said Thursday. "We try to control the running game. But there has to be a balance because you also got a young pitcher on the mound that needs to concentrate on trying to get that hitter. Controlling that game comes with more and more reps out there, getting comfortable with what you're doing." 

Detroit Tigers designated hitter Miguel Cabrera (24) reacts after striking out during the first inning against the Kansas City Royals on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, at Kauffman Stadium.

Welcome back, Stew

Outfielder Christin Stewart returned Friday to replace first baseman Jeimer Candelario, who went to the 10-day injured list and is done for the season with a lower back injury.

[ Tigers want to get Derek Hill more at-bats; Isaac Paredes hitting again ]

Stewert last played for the Tigers on Sept. 8.

Returning for the final three scheduled games, Stewart wants to end 2020 on a high note before training in the offseason. He picked up one hit, a single to right field in the fifth inning, in two at-bats and now has a .179 batting average in 34 games.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content