Kansas City Royals rookie pitcher Brady Singer sure looked like he was poised to match teammate Brad Keller's nine-inning shutout from three days ago.
Instead Singer tossed six scoreless innings in a second consecutive dazzling performance on the road against an AL Central Division foe. Singer matched his career high with eight strikeouts for the second start in a row as the Royals collected a 4-0 win over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on Wednesday night.
The win marked the Royals' fourth shutout of the season. They split the two-game series and have now won seven of eight to improve to 21-29 with 10 games remaining.
Singer (3-4) became the third Royals rookie with consecutive starts of at least six scoreless innings. He joined Jose Rosado (July 25-30, 1996) and Bret Saberhagen (Sept. 18-24, 1984).
"He's still learning. He's going to be one of the best pitchers in the organization, that's what I think," Royals star catcher Salvador Perez said of Singer.
Singer took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of his previous start last Thursday on the road against the Cleveland Indians. He didn't allow a hit until he'd recorded two outs in the eighth inning of that outing, just his ninth start in the majors.
Singer also threw a career-high 119 pitches in that game in Cleveland, which played into his outing against the Tigers ending after six efficient innings. Singer called it a "smart move" to end his outing at six innings.
He somehow carried over the momentum from nearly a week ago in Cleveland and dominated from the first pitch of his start in Detroit.
Singer, 24, struck out the first five batters he faced — including the first three on just 10 pitches (all strikes, one fouled) — to start the game.
Those five consecutive strikeouts tied a franchise record. He joined Gil Meche (June 2008) as the only Royals starters to accomplish that feat.
"I just kind of applied what I learned from last start as well into this outing, tried to lock in from pitch one and keep it rolling," Singer said.
Singer retired the first 10 batters he faced. The second time through the lineup, he allowed two hits including an infield single.
Singer, 24, entered the season with an unmistakable confidence level despite having not pitched above the Double-A level.
Near the end of spring training 2.0, Singer did not back down from saying he believed he was capable of competing at the highest level.
After the club announced he'd start the second game of the regular season, Singer said he expected to be playing in the big leagues that quickly.
If Wednesday night's performance was any indication, Singer's confidence and ability to execute continue to grow as he gets more innings under his belt against big-league lineups.
The biggest sign of his continued progress may be when he misses his location.
"If we're honing in on one side of the plate, I'm going to miss on that side of the plate now," Singer said. "I feel like earlier in the year I missed more over the middle, I feel like the same with my slider as well. I feel like that's where we got hurt against the Tigers last time. I left some balls over the middle of the plate with the slider. I'm trying to have good misses instead of misses over the middle of the plate."
The rookie right-hander has now struck out 14 and allowed no runs, just three hits and three walks in his last 16 innings.
He departed Wednesday's after having thrown 81 pitches.
"I explained to him, this is part of the way this works," Royals manager Mike Matheny said of taking Singer out after six innings. "'When you take such a run at a special accomplishment — and you made a great run at it -- but we also now have to be real about the fact that we have to protect you.'
"I know he felt strong. He wanted the ball. He doesn't like it. All that's good. That's exactly where he should be, but that's the way it goes."
Perez continued his red-hot hitting and drove in the first three runs of the game with a two-run home run and an RBI double.
Perez, who came off of the injured list on Friday, went 7 for 14 with four runs, two doubles, a home run and three RBIs in the weekend series after having missed 20 games.
The top three hitters in the Royals' batting order, Whit Merrifield (2 for 5, two runs, two stolen bases), Adalberto Mondesi (2 for 4) and Perez (2 for 3, home run, double) combined to go 6 for 11 with three stolen bases and four runs scored.
The Royals led 3-0 when Singer exited after the sixth inning thanks to Perez's first-inning homer and his sixth-inning RBI double.
They tacked on a run in the eighth on a wild pitch with the bases loaded that allowed Merrifield to score from third base.