Hernandez, who has gone 2-1 in five starts since returning from a two-month stint on the disabled list due to inflammation in his right elbow, picked up a huge win in Chicago on Monday.
Despite yielding six runs and eight hits over five shaky innings, Hernandez gave the Royals their only win in a crucial three-game series with the White Sox. The second-year right-hander walked four and struck out one, but benefited from Kansas City’s seven-run seventh-inning.
The Royals have won four of Hernandez’s last five starts.
On Saturday, Kansas City jumped a half-game in front of second-place Chicago in the AL Central, beating the Devil Rays 6-2 while the White Sox lost to Oakland. The Royals had dropped out of first place for the first time since July 1.
The Devil Rays, who had won eight of 11, have split six games with the first-place Royals this season.
STANDINGS: Royals - 1st place, AL Central. Devil Rays - 5th place, 25 GB, AL East.
ROYALS PROBABLE STARTER: Hernandez (6-4, 3.87 ERA). Hernandez tossed five scoreless innings in his only previous outing against the Royals. He is 5-3 with a 4.54 ERA in 12 road starts this season.
DEVIL RAYS PROBABLE STARTER: Jorge Sosa (4-8, 4.54 ERA). Sosa has won three of his last five decisions, but did not receive one in Tampa Bay’s 5-4 win over Toronto on Tuesday. The right-hander allowed only one run and six hits over seven solid innings, while striking out six and walking two. Sosa is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two career starts against the Devil Rays.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Royals - Raul Ibanez, .296 avg. and 69 RBIs; Beltran, 18 HRs, 70 runs and 30 SBs. Devil Rays - Aubrey Huff, .301 avg., 19 HRs and 60 RBIs; Rocco Baldelli, 63 runs; Carl Crawford, 34 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Tied, 3-3.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Royals - OF Beltran hit his 100th career homer Saturday. … 1B Ken Harvey left Saturday’s game in the second inning after straining his left pectoral muscle while swinging a bat. He is day-to-day. … 3B Joe Randa is 2-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs against RHP Sosa. Devil Rays - Sosa is 2-4 with a 4.10 ERA in 14 appearances, including six starts, at Tropicana Field this season. … OF Crawford was scratched from the lineup Saturday after mildly spraining his right ankle while running after a fly ball in batting practice. X-rays were negative and Crawford is day-to-day. … Lou Piniella managed his 2,569th game Friday, tying him for 23rd place on the career list with former Yankees manager Miller Huggins.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Royals - 30-27 on the road; Devil Rays - 26-33 at home.
INJURIES: Royals - 1B Harvey (pectoral muscle), day-to-day; INF Mendy Lopez (calf), 15-day DL; OF Michael Tucker (leg), 15-day DL; RHP Jose Lima (groin), 15-day DL; RHP Kyle Snyder (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Miguel Asencio (elbow), 60-day DL. Devil Rays - OF Crawford (ankle), day-to-day; SS Rey Ordonez (knee), 15-day DL; INF Terry Shumpert (hamstring), 15-day DL; OF Ben Grieve (blood clot), 60-day DL; RHP Seth McClung (elbow), 60-day DL.