Ned Yost says mixing up his rotation in mid-September isn't a sign that he's changing his postseason plans. It also doesn't have anything to do with Johnny Cueto's health issues. It's about getting Cueto - and his team - back on track.
With Yordano Ventura inserted into the struggling Cueto's spot Saturday, the visiting Royals look to end their own skid while continuing an already heated series against the Baltimore Orioles.
The Royals (83-57) are 3-7 in September and their latest loss was a wild one in Friday night's opener. Baltimore (68-72) rallied for a 14-8 victory with a 10-run eighth in which Nolan Reimold and Steve Clevenger hit grand slams and Manny Machado added a solo shot.
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Baltimore joined seven other teams with two grand slams in an inning, and the Orioles are the only team to do it twice (1986). Four of those clubs added a third home run in the same inning, most recently the New York Mets in 2006.
After homers from Reimold and Machado and a single from Adam Jones, Franklin Morales hit Chris Davis in the back with a pitch, prompting the Orioles slugger to turn away from the mound and shatter his bat on the ground. Davis glared at Morales before taking his base, and manager Buck Showalter was subsequently ejected.
"We hit a grand slam, another home run, a couple rockets," Davis said. "It just didn't look right, regardless of whether it was on purpose or not."
Kansas City has lost six of seven, but it still holds a comfortable 10-game lead in the AL Central.
Cueto was scheduled to start Saturday but chose to switch to Sunday's night contest when given the option by Yost. The right-hander is 2-5 with a 4.86 ERA since getting traded from Cincinnati and has lost each of his last four starts.
"It's all about getting him comfortable and getting him going in a good direction," Yost told MLB's official website. "Yordano was OK with it. He doesn't care."
That's probably because Ventura (10-8, 4.34 ERA) has hardly lost since July. He did have a hiccup in Monday's 6-2 defeat against Minnesota, allowing four runs in 5 1-3 innings, but that was the right-hander's only loss in his last nine starts.
In his last six outings, Ventura is 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 37 1-3 innings.
Ventura has dominated the Orioles in three starts over the last two years, holding them to two runs in 20 1-3 innings for an ERA of 0.89. He picked up the win in a 5-3 victory Aug. 27, allowing two hits in six scoreless innings while striking out a career high-tying 11.
Baltimore starter Chris Tillman took the loss in that game, allowing nine hits and four runs in six innings. Tillman (9-11, 5.15) is suffering through his second four-start losing streak this season and will try to avoid dropping five consecutive outings for the first time in his seven-year career.
The right-hander's 8.19 ERA since Aug. 11 is the MLB's highest of qualifying pitchers, and he has coughed up 16 hits and 13 runs in 7 2-3 innings during blowout losses to Tampa Bay and Toronto his last two times out.
Tillman is 2-3 with a 6.17 ERA against the Royals in six career starts.
Mike Moustakas and Kendrys Morales are each 5 for 11 against Tillman, while Alex Gordon is 3 for 13 with two home runs.