Royals try to gain ground in twin bill with Tigers

The good news for the Kansas City Royals is that they still have four more chances to make up some ground on the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers.

Still, the Royals face a tough challenge on Friday as they are set to battle the Tigers in a day/night doubleheader after dropping the opener of this five- game series.

Kansas City has lost three in a row following a 17-3 stretch and Thursday's 4-1 setback dropped the Royals 8 1/2 games behind the Tigers in the standings. Detroit, meanwhile, is 6 1/2 games up on Cleveland in the division.

Alex Gordon had an RBI single off Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez in the first inning yesterday, but Kansas City managed just four hits in the game after the frame.

"We had Sanchez early," Kansas City manager Ned Yost. "We just couldn't do anything with him after that."

Jeremy Guthrie allowed four runs on 13 hits over seven frames for Kansas City in the loss.

Andy Dirks had four hits, including two doubles, for the Tigers and also scored twice. Prince Fielder hit a two-run homer, his first since July 24, and Sanchez allowed just the one run over 7 1/3 innings.

Detroit has won back-to-back games following a 1-4 stretch.

"We don't want to give them any chance to get close to us," Sanchez said of the Royals.

The up-and-down Justin Verlander returns to the mound for the Tigers today in the first game having failed to secure a third straight winning start last Sunday at New York.

Verlander was reached by the Yankees for four runs on seven hits and a walk over seven innings, but also struck out nine. However, he yielded a pair of homers and was in line for a loss before a late Tigers rally.

The 30-year-old righty is 12-8 with a 3.57 earned run average in 25 starts this season and was roughed up for six runs -- five earned -- over 5 2/3 innings of a loss when he last faced the Royals on July 20 in Kansas City.

Verlander still has excellent career numbers in this series, going 15-3 with a 2.74 ERA over 26 encounters.

The Royals will counter Verlander with Danny Duffy, while James Shields pitches the nightcap against Detroit's Jose Alvarez.

Following Tommy John surgery last June, the 24-year-old Duffy made his season debut on Aug. 7 in a start versus Minnesota and did not factor into a 5-2 win. He logged 3 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on six hits and a pair of walks while striking out seven.

Duffy is 3-0 with a 4.13 ERA in 11 games (9 starts) with Triple-A Omaha, where he will be recalled from prior to the game, and owns a career record of 6-10 with a 5.27 ERA in 27 Major League starts.

The righty has faced Detroit four times before and is 0-3 with a 5.16 ERA.

Shields, meanwhile, is coming off his third victory in four starts.

The right-hander won a 4-3 decision over Boston on Sunday, charged with three runs -- two earned -- on seven hits and three walks over seven innings. That came one start after Shields allowed seven runs over six innings of a setback to Minnesota on Aug. 6.

"I thought Shields threw the ball much better," Yost said on his team's website after the win over the Red Sox. "He made a little minor adjustment in his mechanics and it paid off big for him today. I thought him going out and getting us through the seventh inning was huge."

Shields is 7-8 with a 3.33 ERA in 25 starts this season, going 0-1 in three meetings with Detroit. However, the 31-year-old is 5-2 against the Tigers lifetime with a 3.56 ERA.

The Tigers will also need to add Alvarez to the roster today and the 24-year- old rookie has made four starts with Detroit this season, the last coming on July 1 in Toronto. Over his first taste of big league action, Alvarez is 1-2 with a 5.03 ERA.

The left-hander is 8-6 with a 2.79 ERA in 20 starts on the season with the Triple-A Toledo.

The Royals lead the season series with the Tigers 5-4.