Royals aim to go above .500; Blue Jays trying to get there

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Royals will try to climb above .500 for the first time this season when they take on the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.

The Royals (36-36) are 10-2 in the past dozen games to reach .500 for the first time since April.

“We had a good road trip to California and we’re just trying to keep that momentum going at home,” said rookie right-hander Jake Junis, who got a no-decision Friday, giving up two runs in 6 1/3 innings.

The Royals won seven of their final eight games on their West Coast trip. They are 4-1 on this homestand.

“We’ve said all year we have a team that is definitely capable of making a run,” Royals designated hitter Brandon Moss said. “Early on, we had some unbelievable pitching, but we didn’t have any offense going. Now the rest of the lineup is starting to at least contribute.

“Once you make that lineup deeper, we’re able to score some more runs and keep us in the ballgame. Less pressure on the pitching staff, too.”

The Royals’ rally prevented the Blue Jays from moving within a game of .500. Nine times this season Toronto has been within a game of .500 but lost all nine.

Josh Donaldson returned to third base after being scratched Thursday with a sore knee. Outfielder Steve Pearce, however, sat out his second successive game with a bruised knee.

Manager John Gibbons is tinkering with a new batting order, moving Jose Bautista, who had three hits Friday, to the leadoff spot. But the knee injuries to Donaldson and Pearce have prevented him from getting his regular lineup on the field at the same time.

“I think it’ll be good, but until we get them all in there … and hopefully it won’t be long until we get them all in there,” Gibbons said.

Gibbons said he does not recall a season with so many injuries.

“Yeah, there’s been a lot, but there’s no crying in baseball,” Gibbons said.

The Royals will start left-hander Jason Vargas in the middle game of the series. Vargas is tied for the major league lead with 10 victories. He is 10-3 with a 2.27 ERA in 14 starts and 5-0 with a 2.20 ERA in his past five starts. His 1.81 ERA at home tops the American League.

Vargas is 2-3 with a 5.32 ERA in eight career starts against the Blue Jays. He last faced them on May 30, 2014, in a 6-1 win at the Rogers Centre.

The Blue Jays will counter with right-hander Marco Estrada, who like Vargas went to Long Beach State. Estrada is 4-5 with a 4.98 ERA in 15 starts. He is averaging 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings and has an 8-11 career record with a 6.13 ERA in June.

This will be his third career start against Kansas City and the first since July 10, 2015, at Kauffman Stadium. He lost that one 3-0, giving up two runs and hits in 6 2/3 innings.

Estrada is 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA in his first two starts against the Royals, holding them to a .245 batting average and .306 slugging percentage.

Eric Hosmer is 4-for-5 against Estrada and Alcides Escobar is 0-for-7. No Royal has more than seven at-bats against Estrada.