DETROIT -- The Tigers aren't counting on rookie Drew Smyly to carry the team, but if he can do what he did Friday, they'd be ecstatic.
Smyly (4-3) allowed just two runs on six hits while walking none and striking out 10 in the Tigers' 4-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
Smyly became the first Tigers rookie with double-digit strikeouts and no walks since Eric Erickson in 1918. Erickson had 12 strikeouts in a 16-inning complete game. Smyly's 10 strikeouts are the most by a Tigers rookie since Mark Leiter had 10 on Oct. 5, 1991, at Baltimore.
"That's the best I've seen him," manager Jim Leyland said.
For Smyly, who is a control pitcher as opposed to a hard-thrower, the 10 strikeouts impressed him more than the zero walks.
"I feel like control hasn't been my problem all year," Smyly said. "First and foremost, you've got to throw strikes. When you have zero walks, that's great.
"When I walk somebody, you're just shooting yourself in the foot. My curveball was on so well. It's fun getting strikeouts."
The win helped the Tigers reach the elusive .500 mark at 42-42, the first time they've been at .500 since May 15 (18-18).
For Smyly, who just turned 23 last month, the last two starts have been something to build on.
Against the Tampa Bay Rays last week, he allowed three runs on three hits in five innings, walking one and striking out four.
"I feel like I got better my last two games,"Smyly said. "In Tampa, I thought it was a big improvement. (Friday) was a big step up, so I'm very happy with the momentum going into the break."
The only real trouble for Smyly came in the fifth inning, when the Royals tied the game at 2. After Mike Moustakas' one-out double, Smyly appeared to favor his right side, and Leyland and athletic trainer Kevin Rand rushed out to check on him.
"Just one pitch, I kind of tweaked my side," Smyly said. "It wasn't anything serious. I was just trying to stretch it.
"They just wanted to know what was going on. But I told them I was good and went out and pitched the fifth and sixth."
It was the first time that Smyly had made it through the sixth inning since June 5 against Cleveland.
"We got that one extra inning out of him that we were hoping to get," Leyland said. "Usually, its been five. I extended him, and I did it on purpose because hopefully itll give him a little confidence.
"He wont be pitching now until well after the break, so it was a time that you could extend him. Hopefully, thatll be a confidence booster for him."
Delmon Young, who hit the game-winning, two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth, is impressed with Smyly's production as such a young age.
"Most 22-year-olds (23) are in A-ball or Double-A right now," Young said. "He's in the big leagues, carrying himself like a veteran. So it's been very good to have him around."
The big leagues are a tough place for any pitcher to be successful, let alone one that's only been in professional baseball for a season and a half.
Leyland believes Smyly has a good feel for pitching for a young guy. Plus, he's always trying to improve.
"I'm learning like crazy every time out," Smyly said. "It's just a lot to take in, from trying to get major-league hitters out and then just little mechanical things and what pitches to throw in certain situations.
"I've gotten myself in trouble a good amount of times, gotten out of it some. I've had my good games, had my bad games. You're just trying to work consistently and get better every time out."
Leyland said he doesn't expect Smyly to be great this season but believes it can happen in the future.
"Hes a second-year player," Leyland said. "Thats tough. Hes not going to wipe these guys out here. (Friday) was exceptional, but thats not going to happen very often with a young pitcher because hes not an overpowering guy.
"I like him a lot. I think he has a chance to be an outstanding pitcher in two to three years."
Coke feeling better
A day after reliever Phil Coke was sent home sick, he was back in the clubhouse Friday, feeling better.
"I went to bed, I felt fine," Coke said. "I had a little bit of a runny nose. I woke up the next morning and my body hurt, clicking my fingernails hurt. I felt like my face was out to here, it was so congested and pounding so hard."
Coke came to the ballpark but felt so bad that the doctor who saw him sent him home with antibiotics and decongestants. Coke said he didn't even move once he got home.
"That's how awesome I felt," Coke said. "I hate being stagnant or sitting still. I can't do it. The only time I ever do it was when I'm upside down like that. So it was even more irritating to know that's how bad I was, to have to be sent home from the field, I'm not OK with that. It bothers me."
Coke watched the game on television and said he couldn't react even when he saw Prince Fielder's home run.
"I went to move and go, 'Yeah! with excitement and as soon as I twitched, I wanted to shoot myself," Coke said.
Coke was able to return to action Friday, retiring the Royals' Alex Gordon in the seventh.
Dirks takes a step
Andy Dirks was able to ditch his walking boot Thursday but that doesn't mean he's going to jump back into everything.
"Right now all I know is I can do some basic rehab therapy-type stuff, nothing too strenuous," Dirks said. "I can ride a bike now so help my legs get back into shape, and some cardio."
Dirks hopes to be able to start doing baseball activities by the end of next week.