Struggling Tigers start two-game series against Royals

Manager Ron Gardenhire knew the Detroit Tigers would take their lumps this season. What has been troubling to him lately is their sloppy play.

Outfielders missing cutoff men. Pitchers failing to hold runners on properly. Infielders bobbling grounders. Batters swinging at pitchers out of the zone.

The Tigers carry a three-game losing streak into a two-game series at Kansas City. Detroit left-hander Matthew Boyd will oppose right-hander Jacob Junis in the opener on Tuesday.

Gardenhire wants his team to play smarter and sharper.

“We’ve got things to work on, a lot of things to work on,” he said. “We’re trying to work on it and we’re touching on it just about every time it happens. We make sure we talk to them about it. All those little things will eventually pay off down the road.”

Francisco Liriano was originally scheduled to start Tuesday, but Gardenhire shuffled his rotation to accommodate ace Michael Fulmer.

Liriano will make a start later in the week because Gardenhire wants Fulmer to pitch every fifth day. Fulmer, who will pitch Wednesday’s matinee, made his first start since the All-Star break on Friday after recovering from an oblique strain.

“Our goal here is to keep Fulmer on his five days because he’s coming through this thing,” Gardenhire said. “So we’re just kind of adjusting. Frankie’s one of those guys who can adjust. He’s done it before and he’s a veteran. He doesn’t have too many worries about those things, so we’re going to adjust with him.”

Boyd (8-11, 4.09 ERA) held the Chicago White Sox scoreless for six innings in his last start. He also collected a victory in his last visit to Kansas City, giving up two runs in six innings and striking out seven on July 25.

Improved control has led to an uptick in Boyd’s effectiveness. In his last nine starts, Boyd has issued just seven walks while striking out 51.

In 12 career starts against Kansas City, Boyd is 3-6 with a 6.40 ERA.

Junis (6-12, 4.70) has gone winless in his last four starts, but he hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in any of them.

“It’s been encouraging to have some consistent starts in a row,” Junis told MLB.com. “I was slumping pretty hard, so to bounce back and have some strong ones since the All-Star break, it’s encouraging to finish this season strong.”

In his last start at Tampa Bay on Wednesday, Junis pitched 5 2/3 innings and gave up four runs, but only two were earned.

“It’s not encouraging, (because) I’ve got a good feeling about Jake, so I don’t need to be encouraged,” Royals manager Ned Yost told MLB.com. “This is what I expect out of Jake. I expect him to go out and make starts like this. I expect him to execute pitches and have a good slider and keep us in the game.”

Junis has faced the Tigers more than any other team in his two-year career and consistently given them fits. He is 5-1 in six starts with a 3.44 ERA.

The Royals have lost six of their last eight games.