(AP) — Kansas City’s pitchers have sparked the team’s return to the .500 mark.
Right at the head of that effort has been Ervin Santana, who will look to lead the Royals to a winning record for the first time in exactly a month with a victory over the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night.
“It’s important to get to .500, but now it’s more important to move past that,” manager Ned Yost said.
Kansas City (34-34) has won 11 of 13 behind a pitching staff that has posted a 1.69 ERA during its run while holding opposing hitters to a .217 average.
“We’ve been playing good baseball and we’re enjoying it,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “We’re more confident now than we were when we started 17-10.”
It was more of the same Monday, as the Royals held the Indians (34-35) to six hits. James Shields overcame four walks to allow one run in six innings, and the bullpen took care of the rest in Kansas City’s 2-1 victory. Royals’ relievers have allowed two runs over their last 37 innings.
Santana (5-5, 2.74 ERA) will look to win his third straight start. He hasn’t walked a batter over his past two games and has the fourth-best strikeouts-to-walks ratio in the majors.
He failed to pick up a win for over a month as Kansas City tallied just nine runs over six of his starts – all losses for the team – but in his last two outings, the Royals have scored 17 to help Santana even his record. The right-hander surrendered five hits and an unearned run over 7 2-3 innings of a 10-1 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday.
Before winning his last two starts, Santana’s last win came against Cleveland on April 27, when he tossed seven scoreless innings with no walks and five strikeouts in a 3-2 victory. He’s allowed one run over 14 innings to win his past two against the Indians.
Santana has held Cleveland’s Carlos Santana to 3 hits in 14 at-bats, while Mike Aviles has yet to muster a hit against him in 10 at-bats.
Cleveland’s once-prolific offense has struggled of late. After finishing third in the majors with 146 runs in May, the Indians are tied for 20th with 53 runs in June. Cleveland has yet to surpass six runs this month after doing so 10 times in May. Even second baseman Jason Kipnis saw his 10-game hitting streak, during which he batted .432, snapped in Monday’s loss.
That’s rough news for Ubaldo Jimenez (5-4, 4.79), who has received just 17 runs of support over his last six starts.
Jimenez went 12 starts without a win before allowing three hits over seven innings in a 9-0 victory at Kansas City on April 29.
“It felt really good,” Jimenez said. “When I saw the run on my fastball, I said, `We have to take advantage of that.'”
Jimenez will want to be careful with Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, who has tagged him for five hits, including two home runs, in 11 at-bats.
Cleveland will again be without first baseman Nick Swisher, who is dealing with a sore shoulder and is not expected back until Friday at the earliest.