Right-hander Robinson Tejeda was brilliant as the Royals again defeated the Detroit Tigers, 5-1, on Wednesday night at soggy Kauffman Stadium. Billy Butler spearheaded the attack with three doubles and two RBIs.
The Royals have won three straight games for the first time since early July and all were against division leaders, the Tigers twice and the Angels once. The last previous three-victory spurt came July 4-6 with two wins against the White Sox and one at Detroit.
Tejeda, who threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings as a stand-in for Gil Meche last Friday against the Los Angeles Angels, was on top of his game again. He pitched six shutout innings, giving up just three hits and two walks, and earned the victory.
Blazing early, six of the first seven outs he got were via strikeouts. When he fanned Clete Thomas to end the sixth, Tejeda reached his career high of eight strikeouts. And he left with a 1-0 lead, giving him a streak of 19 consecutive scoreless innings.
Does that put him in the rotation picture of the future?
"Sure, absolutely, you'd be crazy not to consider it now," Royals manager Trey Hillman said.
Tejeda not only beat the American League Central front-runners, he out-pitched Justin Verlander, who shares the AL lead with 16 victories.
"Similar to the Angels, this team is pretty good, too, and, man, they have some good hitters," Tejeda said. "It's not easy pitching to a team like that."
The Tigers were suitably impressed.
"That's the best I've seen him," said catcher Gerald Laird. "I remember going back to the dugout when he struck me out on a changeup, and I could've sworn that was his heater. I looked up [at the scoreboard] and it was 86. I was like, 'Wow.' That's one of the better changeups I've seen."
The Royals got just one run off Verlander, who also went six innings and struck out eight. Butler doubled down the right-field line with two outs and scored when Mike Jacobs singled to right. It appeared that Thomas might nail Butler at the plate, but his throw from right field was up the line and the ball squirted away from Laird. Butler flopped past the plate and swiped it with his hand.
Butler would get two more doubles and, according to Stats Inc., he's the first Major Leaguer to have four three-double games in the same season since at least 1954.
"We put pressure on them all night and that's the type of team you want to be," Butler said.
In the seventh against lefty Bobby Seay, Mitch Maier was hit by a pitch and scored on Butler's double that rolled into deep left center. Then, in the eighth, the Royals added three runs as Alex Gordon and Butler each doubled, David DeJesus had an RBI single and Maier dropped a perfect squeeze bunt.
"That three-spot, it's big," Hillman said. "It takes pressure off anybody out of the bullpen but it didn't work out that way."
Tejeda, after 98 pitches, turned the game over Kyle Farnsworth and he pitched two perfect innings. And when the score jumped to 5-0, Hillman was free to bring in Jamey Wright to pitch the ninth. After all, closer Joakim Soria had recorded two tough saves in the previous two games. He could use a break.
It wasn't to be.
Wright began the ninth with a walk and then Aubrey Huff singled. Thomas struck out but Brandon Inge looped a single to center, loading the bases. Uh-oh. Time for the Mexicutioner.
Soria came in and had a prolonged battle with pinch-hitter Alex Avila.
"It's a tough situation," Soria said. "Avila had a great at-bat and made me throw a lot of pitches but I finally got him out."
Avila hit a sacrifice fly, ending the shutout, but two were out already in the inning. Pinch-hitter Marcus Thames flied out and Soria had his 24th save.
"Jack gets us out of it and it's just good to get a third win in a row," Hillman said.
Also good to have Tejeda, who once was a starter for Philadelphia and Texas, give the Royals a fresh perspective on the 2010 rotation. They don't even have to ask him.
"The answer is going to be yes because I think I still have a long time to go in my career," he said. "I'm going to work as much as I can in the offseason for Spring Training and try to compete and try to win a spot."
Even Tigers manager Jim Leyland could see the wisdom in considering Tejeda.
"He's a power arm. He's got a pretty good breaking ball and changeup," Leyland said. "We've always known the great arm he's had, but we've seen him more out of the bullpen, where he's going to try to blow you away throwing 98. Tonight, he channeled that stuff and used his other pitches and pitched very, very well."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.