Hochevar, Bedard square off in Steel City

Two pitchers with similar records - but different levels of effectiveness - in the early portion of 2012 get together tonight when the Kansas City Royals visit the Pittsburgh Pirates in the opener of a three-game interleague series at PNC Park.

Both the Royals and Pirates will start pitchers with 3-6 records, though Pittsburgh's Erik Bedard has been decidedly more impressive through the season's initial two months.

The 33-year-old Canadian-born righty had an ERA below 3.00 through his initial seven starts - in spite of a win/loss record that then stood at 2-4 - and has pitched six or more innings twice in two injury-free outings since.

Bedard was pulled after one inning against Washington on May 9 after suffering back spasms.

Two starts ago against the Chicago Cubs, he pitched six scoreless innings while allowing two hits and got the W in the Pirates' 10-4 victory.

One sub-par outing following, with Bedard getting roughed up to the tune of five runs and five hits in 3 2/3 innings of a 5-1 loss at Milwaukee.

Bedard has faced the Royals six times in 179 big-league outings and is 3-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 36 innings.

Kansas City starts righty Luke Hochevar, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft who's still in search of his first season above .500.

The 28-year-old Denver native was 6-12 and 7-13 with the Royals in 2008 and 2009, then went 6-6 and 11-11 in 2010 and 2011.

He began 2012 with two wins in his initial three decisions while carrying a 4.98 ERA, but has since won just once in seven starts while the ERA number has swelled to 6.63.

In his last start, on June 2 against Oakland, he was chased after 4 2/3 innings and allowed six runs on five hits with three walks and three strikeouts.

For the season, opponents are hitting .298 against him and he's pitched more than five innings just five times.

Hochevar has never faced the Pirates.

On Thursday in Cincinnati, Michael McKenry knocked in the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning and Pittsburgh took a 5-4 decision over the Reds in the finale of a three-game series at Great American Ball Park.

Facing Aroldis Chapman (4-1), Clint Barmes drove a ground-rule double over the wall in center field to lead off the inning and McKenry followed by taking a pitch the other way and slicing it into the right-center field gap to plate Barmes.

Chris Resop got Todd Frazier to foul out and caught Ryan Ludwick looking at strike three to earn his second career save and make a winner out of Joel Hanrahan (3-0), who allowed the tying home run to Ludwick in the ninth.

On Wednesday in Kansas City, Nick Blackburn returned from the disabled list to give the Twins five strong innings and Minnesota came from behind to beat the Royals, 4-2, and take the three-game series.

Minnesota relievers combined to pitch four scoreless innings, giving up only two hits without walking any Royals.

Royals starter Felipe Paulino left the game in the first after taking a line drive off the leg. Luis Mendoza (2-3) entered and pitched five innings, giving up two runs on five hits to absorb the loss.

Kansas City leads the interleague series, 13-10, but the Pirates won two of three the last time the teams met in 2009.