Hochevar prevails in pitching duel

Hochevar prevails in pitching duel

KANSAS CITY -- It was the perfect combination: Luke Hochevar for six innings and the bullpen for the other three.

The result was a 2-0 victory on Wednesday night for the Royals over the Detroit Tigers, a division rival that they've tamed in all five meetings this season.

Joakim Soria, preceded by fellow relievers Ron Mahay and Leo Nunez, polished off the Tigers with a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 10th save in as many chances.

A reliable bunch, these bullpenners.

"No doubt about it -- knowing that any guy you hand the ball over to, you're going to have a great amount of confidence in," Hochevar said. "You know they're going to do a quality job."

The only punch the Royals needed came from Joey Gathright, who lined a two-run single off Tigers ace Justin Verlander in the second inning. This was the first time the Royals ever defeated Verlander, who was 6-0 against them previously.

The Royals have won the last three games on this lengthy homestand, which began with five losses in six games.

"Some real good things are happening right now," manager Trey Hillman said. "Not only with the pitching staff, but the position players have turned it up a lot in the last couple days. Especially in light of the way we started this homestand."

Hochevar wasn't at his sharpest in his start, and had to wiggle out of some jams.

"He worked his way out," Hillman said. "In tight situations, even against guys with a lot of experience and guys who can do a lot of damage, he seems to keep it together very well."

Hillman lifted him after he ended the sixth by striking out Marcus Thames with two on. By then Hochevar had used up 96 pitches.

"I thought we were going to put him in a position to run out of gas," Hillman said.

Mahay pitched a perfect seventh and, after Placido Polanco opened the eighth with a single, Nunez was summoned. Carlos Guillen then singled, but Nunez used a low slider to get Magglio Ordonez to rap into a double play. Then Miguel Cabrera grounded out.

A little messy. Nobody's perfect -- but it worked out.

"They're humans," Soria said. "Sometimes they give up a hit or walk a guy."

Not Soria, though, it seems. He polished off the Tigers with two strikeouts and then snagged a comebacker to the mound. End of story. After his inning of work, his ERA remained at 0.00.

In going up five games to none against the Tigers, the Royals' pitchers have a 1.34 ERA in 47 innings and they've held a dangerous lineup to a .214 average.

"They look very impressive," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I think they have a very good game plan and they're following it very well. And ultimately, the pitchers are executing. We really haven't adjusted.

"It's pretty obvious what they're doing to us. They're pitching backwards, going out of the strike zone with two strikes to hitters they feel they can go out of the strike zone with."

Gathright's game-deciding single was preceded by singles by Billy Butler and Mark Teahen. On John Buck's bouncer, Butler was thrown out at the plate. But Verlander walked Tony Pena and Gathright smacked a liner to left.

"He made some good pitches," Gathright said. "He tried to bury a slider. It was up a little bit and I stayed inside of it and went to the left."

The swift center fielder also made a superb running catch of Carlos Guillen's long drive in the sixth inning, bumping into the fence after the grab.

"I was just trying to help Hoch out," Gathright said.

Hochevar gave up just four singles in his outing and picked up his third victory since being called up on April 20.

This was the second time the Royals shut out the Tigers this year. The last time they did that was in 2002.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.