ST. LOUIS — Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the scalding-hot bat of Kendrys Morales in the starting lineup.
Proof of that came Wednesday night in St. Louis, when Morales started in right field, the first time in eight years he opened a game as an outfielder. Usually a designated hitter, Morales handled four chances flawlessly, including a catch of Matt Carpenter's fourth-inning drive on which he banged into the wall.
That, coupled with three more hits that upped Morales' average to .650 (13-for-20) in the past five games, leaves little doubt that Morales will roam right field again Thursday night when Kansas City ends its four-game interleague series with the Cardinals.
“I felt like he would be able to handle it, and his play tonight verifies it,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He did a nice job. His play going back to the wall was fantastic.”
With third baseman Mike Moustakas gone for the year and center fielder Lorenzo Cain out for at least a couple of weeks, Kansas City (41-36) needs every bat it can get in the lineup as it tries to stay within sight of streaking the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central.
The presence of Morales, who can tie a major league high this year if he collects multiple hits in a sixth straight game Thursday, should help the Royals as they try to capture three of four from their enigmatic in-state rivals.
Owners of one of baseball's best road records at 25-15, St. Louis has been mop water at home. A 3-2, 12-inning defeat to Kansas City on Wednesday night was the Cardinals' sixth consecutive setback at Busch Stadium, dropping them to 15-22 at home for the year.
By contrast, the Cardinals were a major-league-best 55-26 last year, when they were baseball's first 100-win team since 2011.
“I didn't know until just now what the record was,” Cardinals right fielder Stephen Piscotty said after the Wednesday game of the team's home struggles. “It's game-to-game for myself and a lot of guys on the team.”
To break the home losing streak, St. Louis (40-37) turns to right-hander Mike Leake, who is making his first career start against Kansas City. Leake (5-5, 4.25 ERA) is coming off a 5-4 loss Saturday night at Seattle, where he lasted only 3 1/3 innings and gave up all five runs.
The Cardinals will need a long start from Leake after using eight pitchers Wednesday night. New closer Seung Hwan Oh, Kevin Siegrist and Jonathan Broxton could be unavailable after working the past two games.
The Royals trot out veteran right-hander Chris Young, who has been pummeled most of the year. A 13-5 loss to the Houston Astros on Saturday night saw Young last only 2 1/3 innings. He allowed seven hits and seven runs with four walks and two strikeouts in his shortest start since Sept. 1, 2014.
Young (2-7, 6.54) is just 1-4 with a 3.74 ERA in seven career starts against St. Louis, and he has permitted a homer in his first 11 starts this year.
Young might not have to worry about Piscotty, who injured his ankle in the 12th inning diving for Alcides Escobar's game-winning double and had to ice the joint after the game. Piscotty, who cracked a game-tying homer in the 10th, has played in all but four games this year.