DETROIT – The Kansas City Royals are keeping the pressure on in the AL Central, and manager Ned Yost has no big secrets to offer about their impressive winning streak.
"There's no key to staying in it. You just keep playing good," Yost said. "If there was a key to staying in it, then we would stay in it forever. You just play good. That's all you do."
Whit Merrifield homered on the first pitch of the game, and the Royals led the rest of the way, beating the Detroit Tigers 3-1 on Tuesday night for their seventh consecutive victory. Kansas City, which was 7-16 at the end of April, remained 1 1/2 games behind first-place Cleveland, which blew a 6-0 lead before winning 11-7 in 11 innings Tuesday.
Merrifield homered to left-center off Michael Fulmer (10-8) on the game’s first pitch to open the scoring, and the Royals added two runs in the fourth. Danny Duffy (7-6) allowed a run and six hits in 6 1/3 innings. Three relievers finished for Kansas City, with Kelvin Herrera pitching a perfect ninth for his 21st save in 24 chances.
Fulmer struck out the next four hitters he faced after Merrifield's leadoff homer. The All-Star right-hander ended up allowing three runs and eight hits in eight sharp innings. He struck out six without a walk.
"Any time you get three runs early against a guy like Fulmer, you've got to make sure you keep the lead," Duffy said. "He's a great pitcher, and he's got really good stuff. His future is super bright."
The Royals scored eight runs – five earned – off Fulmer in his previous start last week. He was much better this time around, but Kansas City put together a crucial rally in the fourth. Eric Hosmer made it 2-0 with an RBI single, and Mike Moustakas added a sacrifice fly.
Detroit's Mikie Mahtook hit a triple in the bottom of the fourth and scored on James McCann's single. The Tigers loaded the bases in the seventh, but Nicholas Castellanos – mired in a 0-for-18 slump – grounded into a forceout against reliever Peter Moylan, ending the threat.
Joakim Soria allowed singles to the first two Detroit hitters in the eighth, but the Tigers blundered their way out of that inning. With men on first and third and one out, Victor Martinez's line drive to deep right was caught by Jorge Bonifacio, who then doubled Mahtook off first .
"I knew where the left and center fielders were, but I didn't turn around to check where the right fielder was," Mahtook said. "You have to know where the outfielders are."
Merrifield's home run was his 11th of the season and the 17th for Kansas City during this winning streak. The Royals have gone deep 13 times in the last four games.
Royals: C Salvador Perez left the game in the fifth inning with right-side rib tightness. Yost said he didn't think the issue was too serious.
Kansas City didn't use newly acquired relievers Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter, who showed up in the middle of the game. They were acquired Monday along with starter Trevor Cahill in a trade with San Diego.
The Royals optioned right-hander Jakob Junis to Triple-A Omaha before the game to make room on the roster.
Fulmer has 17 quality starts in 20 outings this season. One sign of his ability to pitch deep into games is the fact that he has only two no-decisions, and none since April 29.
Royals: RHP Ian Kennedy (3-6) takes the mound at Detroit on Wednesday night, when Kansas City tries for a three-game sweep.
Tigers: RHP Anibal Sanchez (2-0) starts for Detroit. He's posted a 4.11 ERA in six starts since being recalled from Triple-A Toledo.