Hochevar pitched six strong innings and Joey Gathright drove in the only runs, helping the Kansas City Royals beat the Detroit Tigers 2-0 on Wednesday night and hand Justin Verlander his American League-leading seventh loss.
Hochevar (3-2) limited the Tigers to four singles while striking out five and walking three. He lowered his earned run average to 3.94 in five starts since being called up from Triple-A Omaha on April 20.
“I’m learning a lot,” said the 24-year-old right-hander. “I learned a lot tonight and saw a lot of things that will help me in my next start. You learn how to win in the big leagues. I’m surrounded with a lot of winners. I know every guy on the team is a winner.
“A lot of it is sitting back and watching a lot of these guys do what they do really well. I learn a lot from just watching these guys compete and play hard and do the little things. Every time out I’m feeling more and more comfortable.”
Relievers Ron Mahay, Leo Nunez and Joakim Soria completed the shutout, holding the Tigers to two hits over the final three innings. Soria picked up his 10th save in as many chances with a perfect ninth, and has not allowed a run in 16 1-3 innings in 17 appearances this season. He’s allowed just four hits while striking out 18 and walking one.
“I’m happy to hand the ball over to anybody in the bullpen and know they are going to do a quality job,” Hochevar said.
It hasn’t been just about the bullpen, though. Hochevar already sounds like a veteran, giving thanks for the reliable defense provided by the guys backing him up.
“That’s such a big thing that people don’t look at,” he said. “When I take the mound, I know we have a great defense and it takes a lot of pressure off of you. I’m just trying to induce contact because I know they are going to make good plays. It makes my job a lot easier.”
Verlander (1-7) lost for the first time in 10 career starts against the Royals. He had been 6-0 with a 2.65 ERA against Kansas City and put in another solid performance, leaving after six-plus innings. Verlander allowed just two runs on six hits—five of them singles—with three walks and three strikeouts.
“It’s tough to win,” said Verlander, who has lost more games than he did last year when he was 18-6. “When we score we don’t pitch, and when we pitch we don’t hit.”
The Tigers, last in the AL Central, have lost nine of 11.
“We swung at a lot of bad balls,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Verlander did fine, held them to two runs. We have had all the combinations that lead to losing instead of winning. Things aren’t going against us; we’re not making good things happen.”
The Royals loaded the bases with one out in the second, and Gathright hit an opposite field single on a 2-2 pitch to score Mark Teahen and John Buck. It was Gathright’s first multi-RBI game since June 24, 2007, at Milwaukee.
“It worked out,” Gathright said. “That’s getting it done. He made some good pitches. He was tough. He tried to bury his slider and it was up a little bit. I stayed inside of it and went to left.”
The Royals, who are 5-0 against the Tigers this season, won for the 11th time in which they scored four or fewer runs. It was the fifth shutout logged by the Kansas City pitching staff.
The Tigers’ best scoring opportunity came in the third when they put Curtis Granderson on second and Ivan Rodriguez on third, but Carlos Guillen popped up foul to third baseman Alex Gordon to end the threat.
The Royals loaded the bases in the seventh but failed to score, with Jose Guillen’s ground out ending the inning.
Royals SS Tony Pena Jr. walked in the second inning for the first time in 42 at-bats. Not counting an intentional walk on April 25, it was his first walk in 85 at-bats, since April 8. “We walk Pena on four pitches and it’s tough to walk Pena,” Leyland said.