KANSAS CITY — It was Bubba Starling’s first big league game and his night, but Royals catcher Martín Maldonado continues to show in the last three weeks that he could have trade value for teams needing depth behind the plate.
Maldonado belted a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning and the Royals went on to an 8-5 victory over the Tigers on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals announced 25,059 tickets sold with 4,119 being purchased the day of the game — the most this season. Most of those presumably were to see Starling, the former 2011 first-round Draft pick from nearby Gardner, Kan.
Maldonado, on an expiring contract, has been hot over the last 20 games, going 21-for-70 (.300) with nine doubles and four home runs, that goes along with his superb defense for the former American League Gold Glove Award winner.
“I think just timing-wise, I’m better, and I mentioned the hand adjustment I made, that’s made the difference,” Maldonado said. “And I’m just waiting for my pitch. But I thought the one tonight was a popup. I’ve hit balls harder than that, that got caught.”
Still, Maldonado’s new-found offense has been a help to the bottom of the order.
“He’s swinging the bat well,” manager Ned Yost said. “He started the season out good and then hit a lull. I didn’t expect him to slow down that much, but I knew he’d get it going again. And he has.”
Meanwhile, Royals left-hander Danny Duffy left the game in the third inning after he was hit on his throwing hand by a line drive off the bat of Detroit’s Victor Reyes. X-rays were negative and Duffy is considered day to day with a bruised hand.
Reliever Jorge Lopez got the big assist for this win. After the Tigers put up four on Duffy through two-plus innings, Lopez shut them down for three scoreless innings. He gave up one hit and one walk and struck out three.
“He was in total control of the game tonight,” Maldonado said. “I think he was as good as he’s been all year.”
Lopez agreed, saying, “I really did, too. I felt like I was on time with all my deliveries. I didn’t give anything to the hitters. My mind was focused on the target and kept my mind on what we were trying to do.”
Jorge Soler continued his march towards breaking Mike Moustakas’ club record for home runs (38) in a season — blasting No. 24 in the eighth.