Rays-Royals Preview

Just when the Kansas City Royals’ rotation is getting healthy, the AL leaders lost Alex Gordon to an injury.

Yordano Ventura makes his first start in nearly a month as the Royals look to overcome the absence of one of their All-Stars and earn a fifth straight win Thursday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Kansas City (49-33) beat Tampa Bay 9-7 on Wednesday, but it will attempt to complete a four-game sweep without Gordon.

The left fielder collapsed to the ground with a severly strained groin chasing Logan Forsythe’s inside-the-park homer in the fourth inning. He’ll miss at least eight weeks.

When asked whether that timeframe meant Gordon would be back in games during the regular season, manager Ned Yost said, ”we have no way of determining that. We just have to go week to week.”

The Royals will be at full strength on the mound once Jason Vargas returns from a left hip flexor sprain after the All-Star break.

Ventura (3-6, 4.68 ERA) is back in the rotation after a bout with ulnar neuritis, a condition in the arm that causes weakness in the hand. That limited him to three innings of a loss at St. Louis on June 12.

He gave up four runs with nine strikeouts and six walks in two rehab starts in the minors.

"He’s ready," Yost told MLB’s official website. "He’s ready to go."

Ventura, however, is 1-6 with a 5.17 ERA over his last 10 starts, losing three of four at home behind a 5.75 ERA.

He’s allowed four runs in 11 innings while not getting a decision in two starts against the Rays (43-44), but all of that damage came on a grand slam by Kevin Kiermaier in a 5-4 road win July 9, 2014.

Jarrod Dyson replaced Gordon on Wednesday and hit a two-run inside-the-park homer. He has two hits and four runs in two games during this series and is 8 for 24 in his last 10 contests, increasing his season mark 20 points to .273.

Lorenzo Cain is 14 for 26 with five doubles and six RBIs in his last seven games after finishing a triple shy of the cycle with three RBIs on Wednesday.

Among six Royals named to Tuesday’s All-Star Game, Cain is hitting .391 over his last 11 meetings with Tampa Bay.

The Rays – batting .215 while losing 10 of 11 games – squandered a 14-hit effort Wednesday.

Nathan Karns (4-4, 3.21) would appreciate any offensive help as he faces the Royals for the first time.

The right-hander has a 1.78 ERA and 10.09 strikeouts per nine innings over his last five starts but he’s 1-1 since he’s been backed by two total runs – none in the last three games.

Karns gave up two scores in the opening inning Saturday before tossing six scoreless, striking out a career-high 10 and not figuring in the decision of a 3-2 loss to the New York Yankees.

"You know sometimes curveball better in one inning, changeup the other," Karns told MLB’s official website. "Overall just the ability to be able to mix it up throughout the game and keep all three pitches throughout the game I think was what worked for me, and ultimately throwing strikes."

Karns is 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA in six road starts.