Twins-Royals Preview

The Associated Press

With scoreless outings in four of six starts, Kansas City starter Felipe Paulino is turning in the best stretch of his career.

The journeyman brings a 19-inning home scoreless inning streak into Wednesday night's finale of a three-game set between the Royals and Minnesota Twins.

After missing the first month of the season due to forearm tightness, Paulino (3-1, 1.70 ERA) made his season debut May 5 and threw six scoreless innings in a 5-1 victory over the Yankees.

Strong outings such as that have since become the norm for the right-hander, who yielded three hits over six innings of Friday's 2-0 victory over Oakland. He has yet to allow a run at Kauffman Stadium this season, striking out 20 in 19 innings.

"I expect this. I always expect the best I can do," Paulino told the Royals' official website. "I'm a guy who puts everything into the game."

Paulino is 1-1 with a 4.85 ERA in two career starts against Minnesota (21-34) - both last year.

His task will become easier if Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer misses a third straight game with a bruised right thumb. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Tuesday that Mauer remains day to day.

Paulino has a tough act to follow after Bruce Chen gave up four hits over seven innings of Tuesday's 1-0 victory. Kansas City (24-30) posted its third shutout in the first five contests of its six-game homestand.

"Pitching is contagious. You say, 'You know what? Let's keep it going,'" Chen said. "This whole pitching staff is pushing each other."

The 1-0 game was surprising given that the Kansas City and Minnesota starting rotations own the AL's two worst ERAs - 5.07 and 6.10, respectively.

Minnesota's Francisco Liriano turned in his second straight solid effort as he yielded one run over six innings.

"Most of the time when you give up one run it gives you a chance to win," Gardenhire said.

Another Twins starter with a poor ERA is up next in Nick Blackburn (1-4, 8.37), who was activated Tuesday off the disabled list after being out since May 16 with a left quad strain.

He gave up one run over 2 1-3 innings Sunday at Triple-A Rochester in a rehab start that got cut short by rain, but was enough to impress Gardenhire.

"I was watching him. I actually watched him throw an inning or two,'' Gardenhire said. "His ball was sinking, really diving. He got some quick outs, he definitely located. He pounded the inside corner. He's healthy - that's the big thing.''

The right-hander is 2-3 with a 5.03 ERA in 11 starts against Kansas City, but went 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two last year.

Blackburn has faced Billy Butler more than any Royals hitter, with Butler going 8 for 30. Butler has reached base safely in 25 of his last 29 games overall with a .303 average, six homers and 19 RBIs in that span.

Josh Willingham is batting .364 with three homers and 12 RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak for the Twins.

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