Pirates-Royals Preview

After being swept by one of baseball’s worst teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates broke out against the AL’s best club.

They can secure a series victory Tuesday night behind Gerrit Cole against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

Pittsburgh (54-38) won a major league-best 13 of its final 16 entering the All-Star break. The time off seemingly didn’t do the Pirates any favors, though, as they dropped all three games of their weekend set with last-place Milwaukee, being limited to one run twice and allowing 18 for the series.

However, they matched their second-highest run total of the year and had 17 hits in Monday’s 10-7 win over Kansas City, their 11th victory in 12 interleague contests.

Six players recorded multiple hits, with Travis Ishikawa homering and doubling twice to drive in four runs. Ishikawa, who came in 1 for 18 on the season in 15 games, owed much of his opportunity at first base Monday to infield attrition.

Shortstop Jordy Mercer was placed on the disabled list before the game due to a sprained left knee and bruise suffered in a collision with Carlos Gomez on Sunday. Third baseman Josh Harrison is already sidelined by a torn thumb ligament.

Jung Ho Kang was 2 for 4 starting at short, while first baseman Sean Rodriguez moved to third base, prompting Ishikawa’s start at first. Kang is 11 for 25 with seven runs scored during a seven-game hitting streak.

"I couldn’t tell you why it worked tonight. I’m just trying to see the ball. Wherever it goes, it goes," said Ishikawa, who was designated for assignment by San Francisco before being claimed by Pittsburgh. "I wish I could tell you I was controlling it, but if I could my average would have been a lot higher … Tonight was just my night when the balls began to fall."

Looking to increase his big league-leading win total, Cole (13-3, 2.30 ERA) can also become the first Pirate with 14 victories before August since Dock Ellis in 1971. Ellis was 15-4 through July before finishing 19-9.

Cole hasn’t pitched for the Pirates since a 5-2 victory over St. Louis on July 10 when he gave up two runs over seven innings. The right-hander improved to 8-1 in his last 10 starts.

"I feel good. I feel strong. I feel healthy," said Cole, who threw a scoreless third inning in last Tuesday’s All-Star Game. "I feel like I’ve gotten better every time out in some area."

Cole sports a 6-1 road record with a 1.82 ERA, only losing May 16 to the Chicago Cubs. He has never faced the Royals but is 6-0 in his last eight interleague starts.

Kansas City (55-36) figures to present one of Cole’s toughest challenges. The Royals had 14 hits Monday and are batting .320 while averaging 5.9 runs during a 9-3 stretch. Lorenzo Cain is batting .450 over his last 15 games.

Alcides Escobar, hitting .404 in his last 12 contests, flied out against Cole during the Midsummer Classic.

Jason Vargas (5-2, 4.10) returns for the Royals after missing six weeks with a strained left flexor muscle. Prior to the injury, he had logged three quality starts in four games, including his last outing June 8 when he threw six scoreless innings in a 3-1 victory at Minnesota. He won a rehab start with Double-A Northwest Arkansas last Monday, giving up two runs over 5 1-3 innings.

Vargas hasn’t pitched against Pittsburgh since giving up eight runs in 3 1-3 innings of relief for the then-Florida Marlins in 2006.

The Royals own a 6-3 all-time advantage against the Pirates at home.