By DAVE SKRETTA/AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – The Tigers’ Drew Smyly went from the bullpen to tossing seven shutout innings as a starter. Nick Castellanos is tied with Miguel Cabrera for the team lead in RBIs.
Not exactly what Detroit manager Brad Ausmus expected at the start of the season.
Both of those pleasant surprises factored into a 9-2 rout of the Royals on Saturday night. Smyly picked up where fellow starter Rick Porcello left off by keeping Kansas City off the scoreboard, and Castellanos drove in three runs before Detroit tacked on the final sixth in the ninth inning.
So far, Castellanos has driven in 17 runs – more than Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter, Ian Kinsler and everybody else on the Tigers that doesn’t have an MVP award to his credit.
“I don’t know that would have been my guess,” Ausmus said, “but this is fine. I’m glad.”
Porcello and the Tigers bullpen retired the final 18 hitters in an 8-2 victory the previous night, and Smyly (2-1) retired the first four he faced. After a issuing a walk to Alex Gordon, the former reliever then retired the next six in a dominant performance.
Smyly wound up allowing two hits and two walks before giving way to Joba Chamberlain, who threw a perfect eighth. Phil Coke allowed two runs in the ninth to lose the shutout.
The win was the Tigers’ fifth straight over Kansas City.
“Smyly was outstanding,” Ausmus said. “I think he had nine days since his last start. Pitch count wasn’t a factor. I just decided he had done his job.”
Duffy moved from the bullpen back to the rotation in place of Bruce Chen, who went on the disabled list this week with a bulging disc in his back. Duffy was on a pitch count and wound up lasting just four innings, allowing two hits and walking four while throwing 75 pitches.
“Any time we lose, I’m not going to be happy with an outing,” he said. “But I felt like I kept my team in the game. I pounded the strike zone much as I could.”
Kansas City played without catcher Salvador Perez, who was given the night off after fouling a pitch off his shin in the series opener. Royals manager Ned Yost said he expects the All-Star to be back in the lineup Sunday – though they sure could have used his bat in this one.
The only hits the Royals could muster off Smyly came on Eric Hosmer’s double in the fourth and a single in the fifth by Danny Valencia, who was thrown out trying to reach second.
“These things turn around quick. You look at Detroit’s club and they are swinging the bats really good, all of them. They’re hot right now,” Yost said. “They’ve got good pitching, which attributes to some of it. But we think we’re a better offensive club than we’ve shown so far.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers took advantage of Duffy’s erratic ways.
The left-hander walked the bases loaded in the fourth inning, and Castellanos followed with a liner to left that Alex Gordon caught on the run. But rather than throw home immediately, the Gold Glove winner hesitated, and that gave Miguel Cabrera time to score.
In the sixth, reliever Louis Coleman allowed a double to Cabrera and intentionally walked Victor Martinez, who has been hot all series. Herrera came in and Castellanos ripped a double to right, driving in both runs while ending a 0-for-15 slump.
That was plenty of support for Smyly, who made 63 appearances out of the bullpen last season and two this season, but who may be firmly establishing himself as the fifth starter.
The victory was Smyly’s first as a starter since beating the Royals on July 6, 2012.
“He was throwing strikes,” Ausmus said. “He seemed to be using all his pitches, which is important as a starter. He pitched really well.”
NOTES: Royals RHP Aaron Brooks made his big league debut, giving up all six runs in the ninth. … Tigers RHP Robbie Ray is expected to be promoted from Triple-A Toledo to start Tuesday against Houston in his big league debut. … Tigers RHP Anibal Sanchez (cut middle finger) had no problems throwing Friday, Ausmus said. Sanchez went on the DL April 27. … LHP Jason Vargas starts Sunday for Kansas City. RHP Justin Verlander starts for Detroit.