The Detroit Tigers took Thursday to rest.
An off day following a three-city road trip gave the Tigers a chance to reset before returning to work Friday at Comerica Park. The series opener with the Kansas City Royals kicked off a grueling stretch of 19 games in 17 days.
The Tigers lost 3-1 in Friday’s matchup to begin the three-game series against the Royals, the worst team in the American League Central. The first pitch was delayed 16 minutes, until 7:26 p.m., due to inclement weather in the area.
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The Tigers (29-46) scored one run or less for the 23rd time this season and finished 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position. The offense is averaging an MLB-worst 3.01 runs per game.
Detroit scored its lone run in the ninth inning on pinch-hitter Eric Haase’s sacrifice fly.
This time, the Tigers were shut down by Royals right-hander Brad Keller.
Keller, who entered with a 4.56 ERA and an AL-worst nine losses, dropped his ERA to 4.24 and notched his third win with an 89-pitch performance. He fired six scoreless innings — pitching into the seventh — on five hits and two walk with five strikeouts.
The 26-year-old recorded just four swings and misses.
Crumbling with RISP
The Tigers stranded runners in scoring position — with no outs — in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings.
In the fourth, Willi Castro singled and advanced to second base on a wild pitch. The next three batters were retried: Javier Báez (strikeout), Miguel Cabrera (groundout) and Harold Castro (lineout).
In the sixth, Riley Greene singled and Willi Castro drew a six-pitch walk.
The quality plate appearances put pressure on Keller and forced a mound visit in what ended up being his final inning. Just as he did in the fourth, however, Keller retired three batters in a row: Báez (flyout), Cabrera (strikeout) and Harold Castro (lineout).
In the seventh, Robbie Grossman reached safely with a six-pitch walk. Spencer Torkelson, the next batter, was hit in the helmet with an 88 mph pitch, and after he exited the game, Jeimer Candelario came off the bench to replace him.
That put two runners on with no outs.
Royals right-handed reliever Taylor Clarke replaced a tiring Keller and retired three batters in a row: Jonathan Schoop (pop out), Victor Reyes (groundout) and Greene (strikeout).
Greene struck out on three changeups.
Michael Pineda back from the IL
Right-hander Michael Pineda returned from the injured list and started his first game for the Tigers since May 14. He allowed three runs across seven innings and threw 65 pitches (41 strikes).
The Tigers didn’t want to overwork Pineda, so manager A.J. Hinch kept the veteran on a pitch limit.
The Royals didn’t draw a walk against Pineda, but they tallied seven hits and struck out three times. Two of those hits were solo home runs in the fourth inning: Vinnie Pasquantino (for his first MLB hit) and Hunter Dozier drilled back-to-back homers.
Those homers put the Royals ahead 3-0.
Kansas City scored its first run in the third inning, ignited by Whit Merrifield’s double. Third baseman Harold Castro was too far away from his bag, so Merrifield stole third base easily.
He then scored on Andrew Benintendi’s single.
For the most part, Pineda worked efficiently. Even in the Royals’ two-run fourth inning, the 33-year-old needed 17 pitches for three outs. He threw nine pitches in the first, 10 pitches in the second and 14 pitches in the third.
Pineda was replaced by right-handed reliever Jason Foley, who completed a scoreless sixth inning. Left-hander Tyler Alexander handled the next two innings, and righty Will Vest tossed the ninth.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers strand too many in scoring position in 3-1 L to Royals