MLB Insiders - Kansas City Royals

Virgil Vasquez

The Pirates open a three-game series with the Kansas City Royals on Friday night at PNC Park. Right-hander Virgil Vasquez gets the start for the Bucs. KC counters with righty Gil Meche.

Pittsburgh will get its first look at Gil Meche (4-6, 4.11 ERA) in the series opener, and Meche will be looking to bounce back from the worst start of his career.

Meche struck out 11 over seven shutout innings at Cleveland on June 10 and pitched a complete game in a 5-0 victory over Arizona six days later. His most recent outing, however, was a disaster. The right-hander gave up a career-high nine runs over 3 1-3 innings Sunday in a 12-5 loss to St. Louis.

Pittsburgh sent down struggling starter Ian Snell on Thursday after his poor start two days earlier, and his replacement will make his Pirates debut in the opener. Virgil Vasquez (0-0, 0.00) has five games - three starts - of major-league experience with Detroit from 2007, and Pittsburgh claimed him off waivers from San Diego in January.

Vazquez was 5-2 with a 4.18 ERA in 14 starts with Triple-A Indianapolis, and he'll start Friday in place of Charlie Morton, who will be pushed to Sunday in Snell's spot.

The Royals have won four in a row against Pittsburgh, including a three-game sweep in Kansas City in 2006. The teams haven't played at PNC Park since 2001.

Kyle Farnsworth was not placed on the disabled list Thursday as the Royals waited for test results on his injured right groin.

Farnsworth went down on the mound after throwing a pitch in the eighth inning Wednesday night at Houston. He had to be helped off the field by two trainers.

"He's pretty sore, but he did walk in (Thursday), no crutches or anything," manager Trey Hillman said. "When I talked to him after the game, he thought he was going to be OK, which really shocked me because of the pain he was in. I know he's a tough guy, but we'll see."

Additionally, the Royals have delayed announcing a starting pitcher for the Saturday game at Pittsburgh because of the questionable status of Farnsworth. The Royals will need a starter with Kyle Davies having been optioned last week to Class AAA Omaha.

The probable choice is Bruce Chen, who is 4-2 with a 3.40 ERA in 14 games, 13 of them starts, with Omaha. He has pitched 10 years in the majors, but he missed last season after elbow surgery. Chen was lifted after only two innings in a Wednesday start at Memphis.

"He's certainly a candidate for Saturday, but we don't have anything definitive yet," Hillman said.

ASTROS 5, ROYALS 4: The Royals failed to take advantage of three Astros errors while going only 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Lance Berkman hit a pair of two-run homers off Royals starter Brian Bannister, who took the loss. Bannister was charged with five runs and six hits in six innings. He walked two. Mark Teahen had two of the six Royals hits, including a double, and he drove in two runs.

NOTES, QUOTES

--2B Alberto Callaspo batted in the third slot Thursday for the first time in his career. Callaspo, who went 1-for-4 and scored a run, had batted second, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth this season.

--C Brayan Pena's home run Wednesday off Astros LHP Tim Byrdak was his first in the American League and his first since April 13, 2007, while with the Braves.

--LHP John Bale worked a 1-2-3 11th inning Wednesday, all against right-handed hitters, to log his first big-league save. Bale had 30 saves while pitching in Japan from 2004-2006, including 24 in 2005 with Hiroshima.

BY THE NUMBERS: 53 -- Runs the Royals allowed in their five-game losing streak, through June 21.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Albert (Pujols) hits good pitches hard and bad pitches even harder. When he gets in the batter's box, if you pray then you start praying. If you don't pray, you think about starting. That's kinda how you have to approach it. He's very good at what he does." -- Royals RHP Brian Bannister, who gave up a two-run homer to Pujols in a loss Saturday to the Cardinals. Pujols hit two more, including a grand slam, Sunday.

ROSTER REPORT

--C John Buck, who is the on disabled list with a herniated disk, began a rehab assignment Thursday with Class AAA Omaha, going 1-for-3. The plan is for Buck to gradually work up to catching nine innings in back-to-back games and get at least 20 to 25 at-bats before returning to the big-league roster.

--LHP Danny Duffy was named to the United States pitching staff for the XM All-Star Futures Game on July 12 in St. Louis. Duffy, 20, was 6-2 with a 2.85 ERA in 13 starts with Class A Wilmington (Del.) in the Carolina League. Duffy, a 2007 third-round pick, was 8-4 with a 2.20 ERA in 17 starts with Class A Burlington (Iowa) in the Midwest League.

MEDICAL WATCH:

RHP Kyle Farnsworth (sore right groin) left the June 24 game. He might land on the disabled list.

CF Coco Crisp (sore right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 13. He had season-ending surgery June 24.

RHP Sidney Ponson (strained right elbow) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 30. He began a rehab assignment with Class AAA Omaha on June 17.

C John Buck (herniated disk in lower back) went on the 15-day disabled list May 31. He began a rehab assignment with Class AAA Omaha on June 25.

SS Mike Aviles (right forearm strain) went on the 15-day disabled list May 24. He had a setback in early June, and he was shut down from activity for two weeks.

RHP Doug Waechter (right elbow strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 18. He began a minor league rehab assignment May 4, but he suffered a strained oblique muscle in mid-May, halting his recovery. He resumed his throwing program in mid-June.

3B Alex Gordon (torn cartilage in right hip) went on the 15-day disabled list April 15. He had surgery April 17. He might start a rehab assignment in late June or early July. Gordon is likely out until after the All-Star break.

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