Twins-Royals Preview

Twins-Royals Preview

Published Jul. 20, 2012 10:13 a.m. ET

(AP) -- The Kansas City Royals are the worst home team in baseball, and their rotation hasn't been much help.

Luke Hochevar has been a rare bright spot recently.

Hochevar will try to continue his productive stretch as the Royals open a three-game set with the last-place Minnesota Twins on Friday night.

Kansas City is 16-28 at home, losing four of five there while the rotation has posted a 9.41 ERA. The starters were routinely pounded this week while dropping three of four to Seattle behind a 12.89 ERA.

"It's more frustrating than deflating," manager Ned Yost told the team's official website after Thursday's 6-1 loss. "We're not pitching well right now. The guys are out giving it their best effort, but we've got to find a way to get back on track."

The Royals' ERA from the rotation is 5.43, ranking only better than the Twins' 5.74.

Hochevar (6-8, 5.16 ERA), though, is 3-1 with a 2.76 ERA in his last five starts. He's 1-0 with a 2.53 ERA in his last three outings at home after going 0-4 with an 8.59 ERA in his first six starts at Kauffman Stadium.

The right-hander is 2-1 with a 4.81 ERA in his last four home starts against Minnesota and struggled against the AL Central rival on the road June 30. Hochevar surrendered five runs and eight hits, including a season-high three homers, in six innings of a 5-1 loss.

Kansas City (39-52) was swept in that three-game series, and it's 3-6 in the last nine at home versus the Twins (38-54).

Minnesota has dropped nine of 12, and like the Royals, the rotation continues to be a major problem. It's compiled a 6.51 ERA over the last seven games, and the season mark by the starters is the club's highest since a franchise-record 6.11 ERA in the 1995 strike-shortened season.

The Twins are hoping Nick Blackburn (4-5, 8.10) can help them get on track after returning from a stint in the minors, but his ERA is almost two runs higher than any other pitcher with at least 63 innings.

"We need him desperately," manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Blackburn went 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in four starts for Triple-A Rochester, winning his last two in impressive fashion. The veteran right-hander tossed a nine-hitter July 8 and yielded one earned run in seven innings Saturday.

"I went down there and got to pitch seven or eight innings each time out. It was a great feeling to do that," Blackburn said. "I don't care what level you're at, when you haven't done that all year, to go get that done was a big accomplishment and confidence booster."

Blackburn was battered in his last two starts for the Twins, going 0-1 with a 12.00 ERA while surrendering 17 hits - four homers - in nine innings. However, facing the Royals may help him rebound since he's 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in his last three starts against them.

Josh Willingham is 11 for 24 with four home runs and seven RBIs in the past seven games, and he's 10 for 30 with three homers while driving in 11 runs in eight 2012 meetings with Kansas City.

Willingham's lone hit in nine at-bats against Hochevar is a home run.