DETROIT (AP) - Five batters into Tuesday's game against the Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander was starting to wonder if his luck was going to be horrible all night.
Verlander had allowed hits to all five batters, including three straight bloopers, and found himself down 3-0 without recording an out.
"The first two guys hit the ball hard, and that's on me, but the next three were three of the worst-hit balls that I've ever seen go for hits," he said. "You can work around getting three of those in game, but it is disheartening when they come in a row."
He got out of the inning without further damage, then settled down with six scoreless innings where the Royals got four singles and a walk. The Tigers rallied behind homers from J.D. Martinez and Miguel Cabrera for a 5-3 victory.
Three relievers finished for the Tigers, with Justin Wilson pitching the ninth for his seventh save.
The win was Detroit's second straight after an eight-game losing streak.
"Two games isn't a streak, but it is a start," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said.
Matt Strahm (2-5) gave up five runs and six hits in 3 2/3 innings for the Royals.
Whit Merrifield started the game with a ground-rule double over the 420-foot sign in center and the next four batters singled to give Kansas City a three-run lead with no outs in the first.
However, Mike Moustakas grounded into a force at second, Brandon Moss struck out and Alcides Escobar tapped back to the mound.
"If you are going to get to Verlander, you better get him early," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Tonight is another example. We put three on the board and had a chance to tack on a couple more, but we let him settle down."
Martinez led off the bottom of the second with his 12th homer, and Cabrera put the Tigers ahead 4-3 with a three-run, opposite-field homer in the third.
"It was up a little, but that's why he's one of the greatest hitters in the game," Strahm said.
Peter Moylan replaced Strahm with runners on the corners and two outs in the fourth, but Ian Kinsler lined an RBI single up the middle to give the Tigers a 5-3 lead.
Tigers centerfielder Mikie Mahtook received a standing ovation and a hug from Verlander when he ran down Salvador Perez's hit to the deepest part of the park, making a leaping catch against the wall in right-centerfield to end the fifth inning.
"That's an awesome feeling to see a teammate sacrifice his body to make a play," Verlander said.
Mahtook felt that he owed Verlander a play after not getting to Merrifield's first-inning double.
"I felt like I could have had that one, but I pulled up so it wouldn't bounce off the wall and get past me," he said. "When Perez hit his, I decided I was going to keep after it no matter how close I got to the wall."
Royals: RHP Danny Duffy (oblique strain) is expected to throw his second rehab start for Triple-A Omaha on Thursday. Duffy, who has been out since May 28, will be aiming for four innings and 60 pitches.
Tigers: DH Victor Martinez (irregular heartbeat) took batting practice before Tuesday's game and is scheduled to be activated from the DL on Wednesday. Ausmus said the Tigers will announce a corresponding move before Wednesday's game.
CASTELLANOS INTERFERES AGAIN
Nicholas Castellanos was called out for running out of the baseline and interfering with a throw in Saturday's loss in San Diego, and the same call was made against him in the second inning on Tuesday. This time, Ausmus didn't argue after Strahm's throw to first hit Castellanos and bounced away.
"The call was right, but I think it is a bad rule, and the umpires probably agree," he said. "If you draw a straight line from the right-handed batter's box to first base, it goes through fair territory, so you are asking those batters to run extra distance to get to the bag."
Royals: RHP Ian Kennedy (1-6, 4.95 ERA) will start the second game of the series on Wednesday. Kennedy has only beaten the Tigers once in seven career starts, and allowed five runs in three innings in a home loss to Detroit on May 31.
Tigers: RHP Daniel Norris (4-5, 4.66 ERA) pitches for Detroit on Wednesday, looking for his first career win against the Royals in his sixth start. He received a no-decision in Kansas City on May 29, giving up three runs in five innings.