KANSAS CITY — The Royals couldn’t have played their opening two games of the season much better. The starting pitching was solid, the bullpen was sharp and there were timely hits that led to runs when they were needed most.
Some of those three elements have been missing in the four consecutive losses since, including Thursday night’s series-opening 4-2 defeat to the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. Right-hander Zack Greinke allowed two runs over 5 1/3 innings, but with the game tied in the seventh, the Tigers strung together three singles against lefty Jake Brentz to take the lead for good.
And once a few scoring opportunities subsided late against the Tigers’ bullpen, it was hard not to look back at missed opportunities. The most glaring were ones the Royals typically convert: Moving the runner over and bringing him home.
The Royals left eight men on base and were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position on the night.
“It’s frustrating, but that’s the game of baseball,” Hunter Dozier said. “I have all the confidence in our offense. It’s still early in the year. We’ll be fine.”
Bobby Witt Jr. scorched his first career triple off Tigers starter Casey Mize, sending a slider into the right-field corner and showing off his wheels. With a speedy runner on third base and one out, the Royals quickly had a chance to make something happen.
Two pitches later, the inning was over.
Mize threw Andrew Benintendi a knuckle-curveball down and away, and Benintendi made contact on a check-swing dribbler to third baseman Jeimer Candelario. Witt Jr. already had a lead at third base and was running on contact, so he got caught in a rundown.
If anything, his speed drew out the rundown long enough for Benintendi to make it to second base.
“That kind of speed, he’s always going to put the pressure on,” manager Mike Matheny said. “… It’s really no harm, no foul in that particular situation. That’s exactly what we need him to do.”
Salvador Perez flied out to shallow center field on the next pitch, a slider up in the zone, and the attempted rally was quashed.
“Those were our chances early,” Matheny said. “… Those come back when you realize we’re in a tight game and you had an opportunity right at the first to make a mark. Those are ones that we’re going to keep talking about, that we have to do at a high percentage of the time.”
The Royals quickly got another chance. Carlos Santana led off the second inning with a walk, and Dozier followed with a single. Adalberto Mondesi, whose speed is a key part of his game, bunted — but it went right back to Mize, who threw Dozier out at second after replay review overturned the original safe call.
Mondesi was looking for a bunt base hit, an idea the Royals support because of his speed.
The Royals still had a chance with runners on second — Mondesi stole his first of two bases Thursday — and third base with one out. But Michael A. Taylor struck out swinging on a slider and Nicky Lopez softly grounded out to first base.
One of the Royals’ two baserunners after the fourth inning, Dozier singled to lead off the sixth, but Mondesi immediately followed with another bunt attempt. This one — another bunt hit attempt — popped up to first base. Two fly outs left Dozier stranded on first base.
“Any time [Mondesi] wants to put it down, we’re going to support him,” Matheny said. “We’ve been working with him and talking to him about the importance of trying to get a bunt down when you feel it, when you see it, whether it’s a bad matchup or you see where they are. Any time you can put the bunt down, you know that he’s going to put the pressure on and there’s a good chance they could throw it down the right-field line. It’s always a good play for him.”
There wasn’t concern in the Royals’ clubhouse afterward, despite having not led since their 1-0 walk-off win last Saturday. In four games since, they have trailed in 27 of 36 innings and have been tied for nine.
“I don’t think we need to make changes,” Dozier said. “… We’re going to get the job done, in my opinion, most of the time. We just have to keep working, definitely in those situations, to find a way to get the guy over or get them in. Maybe not try to do too much. But we’ll be fine.”