(SportsNetwork.com) - Unbeaten right-hander Michael Pineda will be hard pressed to better his previous outing when he takes the mound on Friday evening for the New York Yankees in the opener of a three-game set with the Kansas City Royals.
Coming off a scoreless outing over the Toronto Blue Jays, Pineda was even more impressive in beating the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday for a second straight winning start. Pineda struck out a career-high 16 batters over seven innings of one-run ball, the lone mistake a solo homer he allowed in the second inning, and didn't walk a batter for the fourth time this season.
"In the first inning when I threw my first slider I said, 'everything's working perfect tonight.' I'm happy with that," Pineda said.
The 26-year-old's previous career best for strikeouts in a game was 10 and he improved to 5-0 with a 2.72 earned run average through seven starts. He has struck out 54 batters over 46 1/3 innings while walking only three.
Pineda is 2-2 with a 1.65 ERA in four career starts against the Royals, holding them to five earned runs over 27 1/3 innings while striking out 22.
He'll also look to play the role of stopper tonight with the Yankees having lost the final three contests of a four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays to post their longest losing streak of the season.
Alex Rodriguez hit his ninth homer of the season and the 663rd of his career in Thursday's 6-1 loss to the Rays, who never looked back after a three-run second inning.
"It's baseball," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I thought we started to hit (Tampa Bay starter Erasmo) Ramirez the second time through, and we hit it at people. That's baseball."
Girardi does have some cause for concern after starter Chase Whitley exited in the second inning with an injury to his right elbow.
New York concluded a string of 17 straight games against AL East opponents with a 10-7 record. The Yankees lead the division by one game over the Rays, the same margin that the first-place Royals have over the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central.
The Royals managed a split of a four-game set with the Texas Rangers by winning Thursday's finale 6-3. Alcides Escobar had three hits and drove in three runs, while Eric Hosmer also had three hits, including a two-run homer.
Alex Gordon drove in the other run as five Kansas City batters ended with multiple hits.
"We're in a good place. I think offensively, we're swinging the bats well," said Hosmer, who is batting .370 with four homers and 14 RBI over an 11-game hitting streak.
Hosmer hit his seventh home run of the season after connecting on just nine all of last season.
Chris Young will make his third start of the season tonight for the Royals as he again pitches in place of the injured Jason Vargas.
Young is 2-0 with a 0.78 ERA in eight total appearances this season, yielding two earned runs over 23 innings. He gave up an unearned run and did not get a decision in the Royals' 2-1 victory at Detroit on Sunday, scattering three hits over six innings without walking a batter.
The veteran right-hander is 2-1 with a 4.97 ERA in five career starts against the Yankees.
The Royals won four of seven versus the Yankees last year, their first series win over the Bronx Bombers since 1999. New York has won six of its past in Kansas City.