Royals hope to stay relevant vs. patchwork Tigers lineup

Jake Junis has become a reliable pitcher, going 4-0 with a 2.86 ERA is his past six outings (four starts).
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DETROIT — Kansas City comes to Comerica Park to start a series against the Detroit Tigers on Labor Day with the Royals fighting to stay relevant in the wild-card chase.

Kansas City defeated Minnesota 5-4 on Sunday to pull within 3 1/2 games of the Twins, the current holders of the second American League wild-card spot. The Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers are also ahead of the Royals.

Nearly everybody, however, is ahead of the Tigers, who just got swept in four games by the visiting Cleveland Indians. Detroit is 0-4 since shedding Justin Verlander and Justin Upton in trades last week.

Kansas City right-hander Jakob Junis (6-2, 4.41 ERA) will start Monday as the Royals try to take advantage of a young Detroit right-hander, Artie Lewicki, making his major league debut.

Junis has pitched against the Tigers twice in his rookie season, losing in a start but winning in a one-inning relief outing.

He gave up three home runs in a loss to Detroit on June 29. Junis pitched six innings, allowing seven hits and six runs.

“Probably the only time I’ve ever seen him rattled a little,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Kansas City rewarded Junis for a scoreless inning July 9.

Junis has become a reliable pitcher for Kansas City, going 4-0 with a 2.86 ERA is his past six outings (four starts).

The Royals will open the series without the services of closer Kelvin Herrera, pulled from the Friday game and deemed to need at least three days’ rest to deal with a lower right forearm strain. Setup man Joakim Soria remains on the disabled list.

Lewicki, taken out of Virginia in the eighth round of the 2014 draft, was 5-0 in five starts for Triple-A Toledo after opening the season with Double-A Erie. He was a combined 14-4 with a 3.38 ERA at both levels, striking out 123 and walking 31 in 141 innings.

In his last four Triple-A starts, Lewicki allowed one run or none while lasting at least 5 2/3 innings each time.

His fastball is on the low end of the 90s, but Lewicki, 25, mixes it with a curve, slider and changeup.

“His fastball kind of sneaks up on you,” catcher Bryan Holaday said.

“I’m definitely excited,” Lewicki said. “It’s a dream come true for me. I just hope I can get some outs, get a ‘W.’

“I’m not going to overpower you with my fastball. I just want to make you put it in play.”

Anibal Sanchez and Matt Boyd will follow Lewicki against Kansas City, while the Royals will follow Junis with lefty Jason Vargas and Jason Hammel.

The Royals have been shut out 15 times this season while the Tigers are playing with a patchwork lineup.

Not having Miguel Cabrera, diminished by a sore back as he is, puts a big hole in the Detroit lineup. He has four games left on his suspension.

The Tigers have played their past two games with four players in the lineup who spent the majority of this season toiling for Toledo.