Kennedy tasked with slowing baseball's hottest team
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Ian Kennedy, in his fourth start since coming off the disabled list, will attempt to slow the majors' hottest team.
The Kansas City Royals right-hander and Houston Astros right-hander Mike Fiers will start Monday in the opener of a four-game series at Kauffman Stadium.
The Astros have the best record in the majors, 41-16, and they bring a 10-game winning streak to Kansas City. The Astros have also won 10 consecutive road games, matching a franchise record. They are 21-6 in away games, and they own a 13 1/2-game lead in the American League West.
The Royals (24-31) are tied for last place in the AL Central.
Kennedy (0-5, 5.12 ERA) was placed on the DL on May 5 due to a right hamstring strain. The previous day, he left after 4 1/3 innings with the injury in a loss to the Chicago White Sox.
He returned on May 21 to face the Minnesota Twins with no rehab in the minors leagues, which might have been a mistake.
"That was hard," Kennedy said.
Kennedy was removed after two innings, having allowed five runs on three hits and three walks. Five days later, he went five innings at Cleveland, giving up four runs on three hits and two walks. In his most recent start, Kennedy was charged with five runs in three innings in a loss to the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday.
In three starts since coming off the disabled list, Kennedy is 0-2 with a 12.60 ERA, allowing 10 hits, four of them home runs, and eight walks in 10 innings.
Kennedy said he is healthy.
"Last time, I didn't feel (the hamstring) much," Kennedy said of his start against the Tigers. "I was just throwing. I wasn't missing by much, but trying to make those tweaks in the middle of the game when maybe I was having some habits that I was trying to guard against the injury."
Kennedy said he has been able to work on correcting his mechanics in his bullpen sessions between starts.
"It was nice to throw a bullpen without feeling anything," he said. "It's nice to work on things while every time I've thrown a bullpen, it's just like, 'OK, I can get through it.'"
Kennedy remains winless this year although opposing hitters have only a .198 batting average against him. He hasn't won any of his past 13 starts, dating to Sept. 11 when he beat the Chicago White Sox 2-0.
Kennedy has had success against the Astros, going 4-0 with a 1.01 ERA in four career starts. He beat them last June 26, allowing one run over seven innings.
Only three Astros hitters have more than eight at-bats against Kennedy. Former Royal Nori Aoki is 6-for-13 (.462). Carlos Beltran is 6-for-24 (.250) with two home runs, six RBIs, five walks and seven strikeouts; and Bryan McCann is 6-for-22 (.273) with two home runs.
Fiers is 0-3 with a 5.06 ERA in four career starts against the Royals. He pitched well against them in the Royals' fourth game of the season on April 7, allowing one earned run over six innings.
Eric Hosmer is 4-for-10 and Alcides Escobar is 4-for-11 vs. Fiers. Salvador Perez is 1-for-9 with his lone hit a homer.
Last Tuesday at Minnesota, Fiers got the win after allowing two runs in six innings.
While the Astros are rolling as a team, George Springer has been their hottest hitter. He is 20-for-42 (.476) in a nine-game hitting streak with eight multi-hit games, including six straight.
"I'm hitting first and I know who is up behind me," Springer said. "This game is hard, it makes it easier when I have those guys up behind me.
"We know if we can score five-plus runs, we've got a good chance."
Springer homered twice Sunday in the Astros' 7-2 win that completed a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers in Arlington.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch likes Springer leading off the potent offense.
"He's a tone-setter, and that's exactly why he's up there," Hinch said. "It's obviously fun when he kick-starts us like that, there is just an energy boost in our dugout."