Royals-Blue Jays Preview

The Associated Press

With their starting rotation ravaged by injuries, the Toronto Blue Jays need big performances from Henderson Alvarez.

A small adjustment is apparently a reason why that's happening.

Alvarez will try to match a career high by winning a third consecutive start Thursday night when the Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals conclude their season series in Toronto.

Kyle Drabek is done for the season following Tommy John surgery, and it's uncertain when Brandon Morrow (oblique) and Drew Hutchison (elbow) will return, but the Blue Jays' patchwork rotation has been solid the last two games. Recent call-up Brett Cecil and converted reliever Carlos Villanueva allowed three total runs in 12 innings as Toronto (42-40) rebounded from Monday's 11-3 series-opening loss with back-to-back victories.

Since setting a season high in runs Monday, the Royals (36-44) have scored four times.

"Our offense just didn't do it today," left fielder Alex Gordon said after Wednesday's 4-1 loss.

With an eye on their first three-game win streak since a sweep of Philadelphia from June 15-17, the Blue Jays will finish their eight-game homestand with Alvarez (5-6, 4.15 ERA) getting his first look at Kansas City.

The young right-hander has surrendered six runs - four earned - in his two starts since beginning to work off the third-base side of the pitching rubber.

Alvarez had been 0-4 with a 6.26 ERA in his previous seven outings, all in Toronto defeats.

"I think the move to the third-base side has had a lot of effect," manager John Farrell told the Blue Jays' official website after Alvarez threw seven innings of one-run ball in Saturday's 11-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. "When he is to his armside, he has some heavy sinking action, and that was the case today."

Alvarez, who induced 12 groundball outs against the Angels, won a career-best three consecutive starts April 29-May 10.

He'll face a Royals team that's dropped five of seven on an 11-game road trip that leads up to next week's All-Star game in Kansas City.

The Royals will try to salvage a four-game split in Toronto with Luke Hochevar (5-8, 5.23) on the hill.

After pitching 16 2-3 scoreless innings in his previous two starts - both wins - the right-hander went six innings in Saturday's 5-1 loss at Minnesota, giving up all of the Twins' runs.

His three homers allowed matched a career high.

"Two of those home runs came with two strikes when I'm trying to put a guy away, and I just felt like my curveball didn't have that finish, that bite," Hochevar said.

That could be an issue against Jose Bautista, the major league leader with 27 homers, and the Blue Jays, who are second in baseball with 120.

Toronto, though, can also score without the long ball, with three of its four runs Wednesday coming on sacrifice flies.

Blue Jays third baseman Edwin Encarnacion will try to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. He's batting .424 (14 for 33) during that surge.

Encarnacion is 10 for 26 as Toronto has won six of seven versus Kansas City in 2012. Royals designated hitter Billy Butler is hitless in 24 at-bats in those contests.

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