KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Three games into the season and already the Royals' bullpen is descending into shambles. Thursday afternoon saw another terrific performance by a starting pitcher go to waste in a 7-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium.
Luis Mendoza surrendered a three-run homer to Miguel Cabrera in an eighth inning that began with Dusty Hughes walking Johnny Damon in a left-on-left matchup. Add three more runs in the ninth against Mendoza and Roman Colon.
"Obviously, we haven't done our job," Colon said. "That's too obvious. We're not going to try to hide anything. It's out there. Everybody sees it."
They see this: Three games. Three blown saves. Just two losses because the Tigers charitably gave one back. Actually, the Tigers tried to do that again Thursday, but the Royals would have none of it.
So, yes, save some blame for an attack that failed repeatedly to capitalize on opportunities. But these Royals figure to have problems all year at scoring runs. The mounting bullpen miseries are the greater concern.
"It is what it is," catcher Jason Kendall offered. "We're three games into it. We've got a lot of baseball left. We came out on the wrong side today. We'll go get them (tonight)."
Perhaps this is only a temporary blip. Maybe the relief corps will steady into a reliable unit. Only remember: The bullpen spluttered its way last year to a 5.02 ERA.
"We've got to give guys an opportunity to settle into roles," manager Trey Hillman said. "Sometimes, it takes a few days. We don't have guys with a long history of being effective in the seventh and eighth innings. We're going to have to develop it.
"Hopefully, we can get them in the right situations and get to the backside."
None of that happened in three games against Detroit. The bullpen allowed 14 runs and 18 hits in 9 1/3 innings with blood coming from every reliever except lefty specialist John Parrish.
At what point are changes necessary?
"I can't answer that," Hillman said. "I don't know how long you wait. It's disappointing, but I've seen a couple of other games on TV. There have been some other bullpens blow up with a lot higher payroll than ours and with a lot more guys established in the roles that they're in."
Thursday's debacle saw Brian Bannister hand over a 2-1 lead after six innings. That marked the third straight "quality start" from a rotation that permitted two earned runs in 19 2/3 innings in the three-game series.
Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar turned over leads in the two previous games. So three games, three quality starts, a combined 0.92 ERA — and three no-decisions.
"Their starters did a great job keeping the ball down and mixing it up," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said. "It was kind of a relief that their starters came out because they were so good."
The biggest problem Thursday was the Royals' continuing inability to control Cabrera, who went 4 for 5 and added an RBI single in the ninth to his three-run homer. He now owns a .363 career average against KC pitching with 13 homers and 39 RBIs in 41 games.
Tigers starter Dontrelle Willis danced around trouble for much of his six innings — three double plays helped — while limiting the Royals to two runs and seven hits. Reliever Eddie Bonine (1-0) got the victory.
Mendoza (0-1) was the loser after permitting five runs in 1 2/3 innings.
The Royals built their lead with single runs in the first and third innings. They finished with 11 hits, including four by Scott Podsednik. Detroit didn't score until Maglio Ordonez's one-out homer in the sixth against Bannister.
Hughes replaced Bannister to start the seventh and served up a one-out double to Inge and a two-out walk to Adam Everett. The Tigers came up empty — that time — when Jackson struck out.
First, the Royals loaded the bases with two outs in their seventh against Bonine but got nothing when Alberto Callaspo hit a weak grounder to first for the final out. That capped a miserable day for Callaspo, who dampened two earlier threats by grounding into double plays.
Afterward, Callaspo offered a frown and shrug that said more than any words.
Hughes departed after that walk to Damon to start the eighth. In came Mendoza, who got Ordonez to chop a grounder to short that Yuniesky Betancourt failed to handle.
Initially, it was scored an error. Then it was changed to a single. Either way, it was a prequel to Cabrera's three-run homer, which gave Detroit a 4-2 lead.
"It's crazy," Mendoza said. "That home run, that was a fly ball, and the wind carried the ball."
The Royals answered with a run in their eighth against Ryan Perry, but stranded the tying run at third with one out. Not that it mattered, really. Not after the Tigers scored three more runs in the ninth.