DETROIT — It isn't as if veteran lefty Jeff Francis is blameless for his failure to record a victory in 15 appearances since last July 30. But, hey, a little offensive support might make a difference.
Instead, what happened Saturday afternoon is fast becoming the norm.
Francis pitched reasonably well — more than that in this case — but the Royals offered up the sort of punch typically seen at a pillow fight instead of a club leading the league in runs. The result was a 3-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
True, Francis did put the Royals in a quick three-run hole by allowing five hits in the first inning before settling in and permitting nothing more. He recorded the third complete game of his career and his first since 2007.
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He also threw 112 pitches — his highest total since undergoing shoulder surgery in 2008. All he got was another loss.
"The guy across the way was pretty good, too," Francis said. "I know that our hitters are as good as any team in this league. It takes a pretty good pitcher to shut us down."
The other guy was Brad Penny, who has turned dominant after some early-season struggles. He won his third straight start by scattering five hits over eight innings and, in the process, lowering his ERA to 4.11. It was 8.44 after his first four starts.
The Royals began the day leading the American League in runs but have scored just once in losing two games to the Tigers. They ran into an in-form Justin Verlander in Friday's opener.
"They were both take-your-hats-off games," manager Ned Yost said. "They didn't make a lot of mistakes. And then you've got (Max) Scherzer (today) who is no walk in the park."
The Royals, at 20-19, must win the series finale to remain above .500 and salvage a .500 road trip that began with two encouraging victories in a three-game visit to New York.
"I said going into this," right fielder Jeff Francoeur said, "that if we could find a way to go 3-3 on this road trip, it would be impressive to me. Obviously, when you start off 2-1 in New York, you'd like to get a little more.
"But, still, we've got a chance to go 3-3 against two of the best teams in the AL."
Penny (4-3) exited after throwing 110 pitches. Jose Valverde pitched a scoreless ninth for a save, just as he did Friday in protecting a 3-1 victory for Verlander.
And Francis? He's now 0-5 with a 4.83 ERA despite six quality starts in nine outings in part because the Royals, despite those league-leading numbers, have scored just 30 runs in his starts, an average of 3.3 a game.
That's not the worst on the club, by the way.
The Royals are averaging 3.25 a game for Kyle Davies, who starts today against Scherzer. And, no surprise, Davies is 1-5 despite allowing fewer than four earned runs in four of his last five starts.
Francis hasn't won since Colorado's 17-2 victory over the Cubs — now, there's some run support! —on July 30, 2010 in Denver. A long time, but he insists it isn't wearing on him.
"How can it?" he asked. "I do everything I can to go out and pitch the best I can. A pitcher can't win a game on his own. I've always taken that approach. Those years (at Colorado) when I had a lot of wins, I didn't do any of that on my own.
"A bounce here or there and maybe it would look different, but what's behind me is behind me. I can only prepare myself for my next start."
The Royals' best threat against Penny came in the fourth inning but fizzled due to some impressive outfield defense after Billy Butler lined a one-out double into the left-center gap.
Right fielder Casper Wells robbed Francoeur's bid for a double before center fielder Austin Jackson ran down a deep drive over his head that snatched away extra bases from Eric Hosmer.
"Obviously," Francoeur lamented, "with Casper in right and Austin in center — he's one of the best center fielders in baseball — you know you're going to have to earn it in the outfield."
The Tigers took just 13 pitches to build their 3-0 lead against Francis.
"It took him about 20 pitches before he could dial it in," Yost said. "The first 20 pitches, everything was up. Then he got it dialed in, and everything was down."
Jackson led off with a single, and Scott Sizemore followed with a perfect bunt single to first that forced Hosmer to field the ball and turned the play into a race between Sizemore and Francis.
Sizemore won easily.
Ryan Raburn dropped a bunt to third that turned into a sacrifice, instead of a single, only because third baseman Wilson Betemit made a barehanded pickup and strong throw. The runners moved to second and third.
Jackson scored when Miguel Cabrera pulled a grounder through the left side for an RBI single. Sizemore scored when Victor Martinez pulled an RBI single into right. And Cabrera scored when Jhonny Peralta blooped an RBI single into center.
Francis stopped it there, but it was 3-0.
"It's frustrating to know I can throw the ball that way for seven innings," he said, "and, for 13 pitches, just get my butt kicked. But that's what baseball is. Baseball can mess with you."