Detroit's offense finally picked up on Thursday after a 17-inning scoreless streak, but four runs weren't enough. After Tigers starters had held Kansas City to five runs over the first two games of the series, Kenny Rogers suffered one of his worst outings as a Tiger, allowing seven runs over four innings as Detroit fell to an 8-4 loss Thursday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium.
It was the Royals' second sweep of the Tigers in a month and a half, and this one had an exclamation point on it. The Tigers, meanwhile, are still staring at a question mark.
"We've got problems here. We've got to try to figure it out," closer Todd Jones said after a fourth straight loss dropped Detroit to a season-worst nine games under .500. "Guys are wracking their heads."
Considering who was on the mound Thursday, the loss came as somewhat of a surprise. Rogers (3-4) had been one of the more reliable members of the Tigers rotation of late, working his record back to .500 and throwing three consecutive quality starts after losing his first three outings of the season.
From the outset of Thursday's game, however, he was in trouble. Kansas City's first three batters all reached base safely and scored on doubles from Billy Butler and Miguel Olivo. The first three batters all had base hits in a two-run second that included back-to-back walks to bring in a run. Four straight hits in the fourth, including a Jose Guillen solo homer, plated two more runs.
Many of the hits were on breaking balls, where Royals hitters would lunge out after the ball and loft line drives deep enough into the outfield to drop. The only Kansas City hitter who had consistently hard hits was Olivo, the backup catcher who doubled twice. Another double from Ross Gload was a soft line drive that fooled shortstop Ramon Santiago off the bat and squirted past him into short left field.
"They had shots off of Kenny," Leyland said, "but they also had a lot of knick-knack stuff."
That's not going to help much in his numbers. Rogers' seven runs tied his highest total as a Tiger; he hasn't allowed more in a game since 2004. The 11 hits off of Rogers marked the most against him since April 9, 2006, his second start in a Detroit uniform.
"It goes to show you, if you put the ball play, good things can happen," Rogers said of the Royals' success.
He even saw someone steal a base off of him for the first time in two years. Tony Pena swiped second on a first-pitch offspeed delivery in the third inning to become the first to steal on Rogers since Coco Crisp did so on June 2, 2006. Nobody had even attempted to steal with Rogers on the mound since the end of the 2006 season.
Considering the Tigers held a players-only meeting before the game to hash out their issues, this really wasn't the desired result. The Tigers fell to one game under .500 since their 2-10 start over the season's first two weeks.
"You can't get around it," Rogers said. "There's no way around our inability to win at this point in time. I mean, Kansas City's playing fine and all that, but we're not even coming close to our capabilities, myself included. I think everyone in here feels that. We know that, but finding that right mixture and right demeanor is what we're searching for."
The one player who does seem to stay relaxed, ironically, is the one rookie on the positional roster. Matt Joyce hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Magglio Ordonez in the second inning for Detroit's first run since the second inning of Tuesday's series opener. After Santiago doubled and scored in the fifth, Joyce led off the seventh inning with his third home run of the season, and second of the series.
Back-to-back doubles from Carlos Guillen and Ordonez in the eighth whittled Detroit's deficit to three runs against reliever Joel Peralta. He recovered to induce a Miguel Cabrera popout and a Gary Sheffield strikeout to end the threat.
"We're not stringing good at-bats together," Leyland said. "We're getting a couple on and then a couple outs. ... I'm puzzled by it. The inconsistency of the offense puzzles me."
They're not getting a good combination of hits. At this point, they're not getting a good combination of much of anything.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.