DETROIT — In a lost year for Jonathan Sanchez, even a small improvement is something to hold on to.
Sanchez failed to end his 10-game winless streak Friday night in a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers, but even four runs in 5 2-3 innings was better than what he has done lately. In his previous two starts, he allowed 12 runs on 14 hits and 12 walks in 10 innings.
"He was definitely better," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "His strike ratio was better and his command was better. He just made two mistakes – one was a two-run triple and one was a two-run homer."
Sanchez acknowledged that he made progress, but was far from content.
"The results are still not good enough," he said. "Today was better, yes, but I have to do more in the second half of the season. I just have to do better."
The Royals couldn't do much with Tigers rookie Drew Smyly, who struck out a career-high 10 batters in six innings. Nine of the strikeouts came in the first four innings.
"You just can't see much here in the first four innings," Yost said. "That's not an excuse – we have a pitcher out there who can take advantage of it as well, but it is really tough for hitters."
The win got the Tigers (42-42) back to .500 for the first time since May 15. They had failed the last eight times when needing one win to reach the mark.
Smyly (4-3) allowed two runs on six hits. He didn't walk a batter. Four Detroit relievers finished, with Jose Valverde pitching the ninth for his 16th save in 19 tries.
"Tonight was exceptional, because he's not an overpowering pitcher," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "But he's got a good feel for pitching, and I like him a lot. I think he has a chance to be an outstanding pitcher in two or three years, and some people don't think it will take that long."
The Tigers broke the scoreless tie in the third, when Ramon Santiago and Austin Jackson singled before coming home on Quintin Berry's fourth triple.
Smyly only allowed one hit through four innings, but the Royals tied it in the fifth. With one out, Mike Moustakas bounced a ground-rule double over the 420-foot sign in center field, and Smyly seemed in pain after the pitch. He was checked by trainer Kevin Rand, but stayed in the game.
"On that pitch, I just tweaked my side," he said. "I just needed to stretch it out a bit."
The next batter lined out, but Brayan Pena made it 2-1 with a double and Jason Bourgeois tied the game with a run-scoring single. The Royals put runners on second and third in the sixth. Smyly got Moustakas to end the inning.
In the bottom of the inning, Delmon Young hit a 3-1 pitch deep over the bullpens in left for his eighth homer – his second in two days – and a 4-2 Detroit lead.
NOTES: Smyly was the first Tigers rookie to reach double figures in strikeouts since Mark Leiter had 10 in 1991, and the first to do it without a walk since Eric Erickson in 1918. ... Sanchez walked three batters, giving him 15 in his last three starts. ... The Tigers are 67-47 against Kansas City since Jim Leyland took over in 2006.