Barrel-chested Billy Butler always had powerful wrists and quick reflexes. Only now his mental ability is catching up with his physical talent.
Picking on three different pitchers Wednesday night, Butler doubled three times for a club-record fourth time this season to help the Kansas City Royals beat Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers 5-1 for their first three-game winning streak since July.
According to STATS LLC, the 23-year-old first baseman is the first player since at least 1954 to have four games with three or more doubles in a season.
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“I don’t think there’s any doubt how talented he is,” Royals manager Trey Hillman said. “I think everyone knows that. But mentally, he’s come a long ways just with his approach. I think the sky’s the limit for him as long as he continues to learn at the rate that he’s learned between last year and this year.”
Butler had two RBIs in his fifth straight multihit game, backing another strong start by Robinson Tejeda (2-1). David DeJesus and Mitch Maier also drove in a run.
Tejeda matched his career high with eight strikeouts and allowed just three hits. The right-hander, who was in the bullpen all year until making an emergency start last week, has struck out 25 during a 19-inning scoreless streak that probably will earn him a tryout for next year’s rotation.
“I think I still have a long time in my career,” he said. “If I can just finish as a starter, I’m going to be very happy and proud. I’m going to try to work the most I can in the offseason, the same I’m doing right now, and try to be ready for spring training and try to win a spot.”
Verlander (16-8) struck out eight in six innings, allowing one run and six hits. He set the Royals down in order only twice and dropped to 9-2 with a 2.32 ERA in 14 career starts against Kansas City.
“He was throwing very hard and had tremendous stuff,” Butler said. “He was almost throwing through his stuff.”
Verlander scuffled most of the game and missed a chance to become the AL‘s first 17-game winner.
“I did all I could with what I had,” he said. “I wasn’t very good at any aspects of the game. The fastball control wasn’t there. My breaking ball was horrible. My changeup was decent and that’s about it. Tejeda threw the ball very well and the rest of the bullpen did the rest.”
Butler hit his 43rd double with two out in the third and scored on Mike Jacobs‘ single. He added RBI doubles in the seventh and eighth.
“Before this week, I felt like whenever I was squaring balls up I was hitting them at people,” said Butler, who raised his average to .304. “I was swinging at pitches out of the zone. But you go through that in a 162-game season. I’m not doing anything different. I’m just focused and locked in more, looking for my pitch and being selective.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland was impressed with the slugger.
“He’s a tremendous young hitter,” he said. “He’s one of the best young hitters in the American League.”
Detroit loaded the bases with one out in the ninth on a walk and two singles off Jamey Wright, but Joakim Soria finished for his 24th save in 27 chances. Alex Avila hit a sacrifice fly before another pinch hitter, Marcus Thames, flied out to end the game.
The Royals loaded the bases with two out in the second on a single and two walks, but Verlander struck out Yuniesky Betancourt swinging on a 100-mph fastball.
The AL Central-leading Tigers hit town with a six-game winning streak but have lost two straight to spot starters. … The Royals are 19 for 102 with the bases loaded this year. … Verlander’s other loss to the Royals was a 2-0 setback.