Young steps in, takes control and delivers a gem for first-place Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Prior to Kansas City's 4-1 win over Detroit on Friday night, Salvador Perez and Chris Young sat down for a meeting. They discussed a game plan for Friday night, a blueprint for a victory, the path to a win.
Most nights, Perez runs these meetings, deciding how to attack the opposing lineup. He chooses what and where pitches are thrown, how and why. But on Friday afternoon, the roles were flipped. Young dictated the pregame meeting, the 11-year veteran taking the reins before his debut start of 2015.
"Most of the pitchers listen to me," Perez said. "That's the first one I listen to him."
Young ran the meeting before he ran through Detroit's potent lineup, tossing five no-hit innings and striking out nine. Three Kansas City relievers -- Ryan Madson, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis -- continued to hold Detroit at bay, not allowing a hit during the first 7 1/3 innings of the game.
All four pitchers originated from Kansas City's dominant bullpen, which owns the majors' best ERA, and shut down the Tigers for the second straight night. Nick Castellanos' eighth-inning single to left off Herrera trashed the season's first would-be no-hitter. Anthony Gose's RBI groundout negated the shutout.
But it all started with Young.
The 35-year-old right-hander entered 2015 with just one career relief appearance, but was slotted into the Kansas City bullpen due to a full Royals rotation. On Friday, though, Young made his first start of the season, replacing the suspended Edinson Volquez.
He hadn't survived more than three innings this season. He hadn't eclipsed 50 pitches this year. It didn't matter.
Young befuddled Tigers hitters, striking out nine in five innings, exiting after 81 pitches. Young said he wasn't aware of the pitch count, but could feel fatigue creeping in.
"I told Ned, 'I'm in this for the long haul,'" Young said. "If he wanted me to keep going out, I'd do it, but at that point, I think he felt comfortable turning it over to the guys."
Royals manager Ned Yost said he didn't want to push Young any further, not in his first start of the season, not on the first day of May.
Young hadn't struck out nine batters since 2012. But all nine of his punchouts were swinging, the last five coming via his wipeout slider.
"It's just deception," Yost said. "He's a big, tall guy. He hides the ball well. His slider is really, really tough to see. The fastball is tough to get on even though it's only 89 mph, it's up in the zone. We never could hit him when he pitched against us."
The only Tigers Young allowed to reach, he walked. In the fourth inning, he walked three straight Detroit hitters with one out, but shimmied out of the inning by striking out both J.D. Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes.
The Tigers didn't threaten again until the eighth, when Herrera entered the game.
Herrera walked Alex Avila, then gave up Castellanos' rope to left and Jose Iglesias' dribbler to short. Two pitches had passed since Herrera held a no-hitter delicately in his hands. In those two pitches, he loaded the bases with no outs, the tying run striding to the plate.
Gose grounded a ball back up the middle, nicking Herrera's glove before shortstop Christian Colon made a bare-handed grab and throw to nab Gose at first. A run scored, and the tying run came to the plate once again. But Herrera walked Ian Kinsler on four pitches.
The Tigers had two shots at the lead, their two best players -- Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez -- coming to the dish. Herrera threw 10 pitches to Cabrera, only one slower than 97 mph. Three went for balls. Six were fouled off. The last one, a 99-mph fastball, whizzed by Cabrera's bat and into Perez's glove, notching a strikeout and preserving the Royals' three-run lead.
"I think nobody can hit that pitch," Perez said. "That's a perfect pitch."
Herrera coaxed Martinez into a warning-track flyout, ending the threat and clearing the way for Kansas City's second win over Detroit in as many days.
Yost said if Cabrera had reached, Herrera would have been yanked, pulled in favor of Wade Davis. Davis rested for two more outs before nailing down his fifth save of the season with a scoreless ninth inning.
The Royals didn't expect to sniff a no-hitter Friday night, just as Perez didn't expect someone else to run the pregame meeting. How many pitchers have done this with Perez?
"Nobody," Perez said. "Just Chris."
You can follow Matthew DeFranks on Twitter at @MDeFranks or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.