After a terrible start to the season, the Kansas City Royals have played better over the last several months. Their struggles on the road, however, have returned.
The Royals turn to Leo Nunez as they try to avoid matching a season-high six-game road losing streak in the finale of a three-game series against the Texas Rangers on Thursday.
At the end of May, Kansas City was tied for the worst record in baseball at 19-35. In June and July, however, the Royals went 28-24 while posting consecutive winning months for the first time since June and July of 2003.
Their resurgence has hit a snag in August, however, as Kansas City (52-67) has lost eight of 13 games this month. The Royals have been outscored 40-20 in losing their last five road games - their longest road skid since losing six straight April 11-17.
Tony Pena Jr. grounded into a game-ending double play with runners on the corners as Kansas City fell 4-3 on Wednesday. The top three hitters in the Royals' lineup went 1-for-12.
Nunez (2-0, 1.80 ERA) hopes to help the Royals rebound as he goes for his third win in his fourth career start. The right-hander, who before this season had been used primarily as a reliever in the minors, is 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in his first three starts.
"I'm feeling really comfortable starting after doing it in Triple-A," Nunez said through an interpreter. "I want to keep doing it, but I'll take whatever they give me. As a reliever, I'd use my fastball and could hit 98 (mph) for one inning. As a starter, I'm trying to hit my spots and keep the ball down."
Nunez beat the Rangers on July 29, holding them to three hits in six innings of the Royals' 10-0 victory.
"Every time he's been out there, he's been lights out," said rookie third baseman Alex Gordon. "He's been doing it all for us."
The Rangers (53-66) shared baseball's worst record with the Royals at the end of May, but have made similar improvements. They're 34-31 since June 1, have won three straight games and can complete their first sweep of the Royals since May 24-26, 2005.
Texas reliever C.J. Wilson, who took over as closer after the club dealt Eric Gagne at the trade deadline, survived Kansas City's ninth inning rally on Wednesday to convert his sixth straight save - his fourth in nine days.
"There's so many lessons to learn," Wilson said. "I made some bad pitches, I made some good pitches. I got some bad breaks, got some good breaks. It was a good lesson for me. I can't let my guard down. It's a good feeling. You're going to get into some jams. You have to get out them if you want to be a closer."
Ian Kinsler went 2-for-4 with his 15th home run, and is batting .343 (12-for-35) in his last eight games. He's 12-for-30 (.400) with four home runs and 13 RBIs in eight career games against the Royals.
Texas will hand the ball to John Rheinecker (1-1, 6.75), who gave up three runs in six innings on Saturday to lose 3-0 to Tampa Bay. The left-hander hadn't gotten a decision in either of his two previous starts, despite a 12.54 ERA in those games.
Rheinecker pitched 1 1-3 scoreless innings of relief in the Rangers' 6-5 loss at Kansas City on July 28, his only career appearance against the Royals.