Minor cruises against Tigers in opener

Mike Minor walked into the visitor’s dugout at Comerica Park with his head down and runners on first and second. After Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario singled up the middle to end the sixth inning, Royals manager Mike Matheny opted to remove his lefty veteran in favor of Tyler Zuber.

Minor was one out away from his first quality start of the season. He struck out nine, issued two walks and allowed two runs on four hits over 5 2/3 innings. But with an offense that was ignited by Andrew Benintendi’s first homer of the season, Minor walked away with his second victory in 2021 as the Royals beat the Tigers, 6-2.

“I thought he was very hard to guess along with, because he could use just about any pitch in any count, and he controlled counts,” Matheny said. “It was just a very good, efficient outing,”

Detroit couldn’t seem to figure out Minor. The first 11 Tigers who faced him retreated to their dugout in order before Niko Goodrum disrupted the perfect outing with a walk after a five-pitch at-bat. The no-hit bid ended three batters later when Candelario doubled to left to lead off the fifth.

But Minor kept his composure and proceeded to strike out four of the last seven batters he faced. His nine punchouts (five coming off his curveball) Friday night was a season high: When Minor took the mound in the bottom of the first, he had 12 strikeouts under his belt for the season.

“I mean, he was throwing the kitchen sink. I don’t think he doubled up on [a pitch] more than once or twice, to me at least,” said Tigers second baseman Zack Short, who struck out twice against Minor. “I was talking to [shortstop] Niko [Goodrum] in the dugout and I said, ‘Bro, he’s been throwing me everything, every at-bat.'”

Minor was equally satisfied with his outing. He recorded more foul balls (22) than balls in play (11), with his offspeed pitches the preferred choice to neutralize Detroit.

“I thought I was a lot better tonight. We threw a lot of offspeed at them to see where they’re at, and the curveball worked well and the slider worked early,” Minor said. “Later on, I couldn’t control the slider, so we threw a lot more curveballs and changeups, but that was kind of just the report. We kind of set that based off their swings. They showed us a little bit early on, and we stayed away from it.”

When the Tigers weren’t watching Minor’s pitching arsenal land for 13 called strikes, they were also swinging through his pitches. Detroit had 16 swings and misses against the 33-year-old, even with his velocity a tick lower than his season average.

“[I’m] just happy with how he went about his business in general,” Matheny said. “But he’s one of the guys that we’ve talked about. We’re going another week here before another off-day; we need our starters not to need too much help early on.”

Friday night was the best Minor has looked as a starter in the Royals’ rotation. His prior three starts were mixed results between his battle to pitch out of the fifth and limit opposing teams to fewer than four runs.

But Minor’s second win of 2021 showed that he can reel in his curveball to overwhelm hitters and prevent them from making good contact with any of his pitches. The reliever-turned-starter set the tone with a solid outing for Kansas City at the beginning of a nine-game road trip, during which they’ll play seven games against division foes with equally talented starting rotations.

The 2021 season is the second time Minor has been a Royal, but the first instance in the starting rotation. In 2017, he compiled a 2.55 ERA over 65 appearances (77 2/3 innings) out of Kansas City’s bullpen.