Royals-Blue Jays Preview

Ricky Romero likely won’t be mentioned with Justin Verlander and

CC Sabathia when discussing potential Cy Young Award candidates,

though he’s pitched better than anyone during his recent hot

streak.

Romero shoots for a sixth consecutive victory when his Toronto

Blue Jays host the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night.

Since July 27, Romero (12-9, 2.73 ERA) has been baseball’s best

pitcher. He’s gone 5-0 with a 0.89 ERA – tied for the most wins

while compiling the best ERA in that span – and allowing 14 hits in

40 1-3 innings. The left-hander threw a three-hit shutout while

striking out six Thursday against Oakland.

“Everything feels good right now,” said Romero, who has a chance

to become the first Blue Jays pitcher to win six straight starts

since A.J. Burnett in 2008. “I’m attacking the zone, being

consistent with my pitches and not panicking in situations. I feel

in control right now.”

Romero’s ERA ranks fifth in the AL – three spots behind

Verlander and one ahead of Sabathia – though he likely faces an

uphill battle to be a serious Cy Young contender ahead of more

high-profile names.

That may change if he continues this stretch.

“What he’s done is slow the game down mentally,” manager John

Farrell said. “He’s not rushed into any pitches, and in key spots

he’s made some big pitches.”

Romero suffered a tough loss June 9 in Kansas City after

allowing three runs in eight innings of a 3-2 defeat. The Royals

scored all of their runs in the third inning, and they used two

more three-run innings in beating the Blue Jays 6-4 in the series

opener Tuesday.

Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer hit solo homers, while rookies

Johnny Giavotella and Salvador Perez each drove in two runs.

“Our attack was well-balanced,” manager Ned Yost said. “We drove

the gaps, we did a nice job in our situational hitting and got big

hits when we needed to.”

Kansas City (53-76) will seek to win back-to-back games for the

first time since Aug. 3-4 when it sends Luke Hochevar (8-10, 4.93)

to the mound Wednesday.

Hochevar allowed four runs in six innings of a 4-3 loss to

Boston on Thursday for his second straight rough outing. The No. 1

overall pick in 2006 gave up five runs in six innings of a 5-4

defeat at Chicago in his previous start Aug. 13.

The right-hander looks to bounce back versus a Blue Jays team

he’s pitched well against throughout his career. Hochevar outdueled

Romero in June when he allowed two runs in seven innings, improving

to 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA in four starts versus Toronto.

He’ll contend with a Toronto lineup which has scored only six

runs over the last four games, losing three of those contests.

Yunel Escobar broke an 0 for 13 slump with a three-run homer in

the sixth inning Tuesday.

The Blue Jays (65-63) were playing their first game without

infielder John McDonald and former All-Star Aaron Hill, whom they

dealt to Arizona in exchange for second baseman Kelly Johnson on

Tuesday.

It’s unknown if Johnson will be in the lineup Wednesday, though

he has been mired in a funk this season, hitting .209 with 18

homers, 49 RBIs and 132 strikeouts.

“He’d be the first one to tell you, I’m sure, he’s not

performing the way he expected to, especially off the year he came

off last year,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said of Johnson’s

26-homer, 71-RBI campaign in 2010. “Maybe he comes here and plays

well.”

The Royals have won six of the last nine meetings.