Yordano Ventura, in his rookie season, gets thrown right into heat of a pennant race when he takes on the Twins on Saturday at Target Field.
The red-hot Royals, who posted a 6-5 win in Friday's opener to move to 1 1/2 games up on second-place Detroit in the American League Central, are chasing their first postseason berth since 1985.
"I get a little bit excited," Ventura said. "The team is playing real good right now. Every player is working hard and they're making the plays."
Ventura has done a good job of making the pitches, too, with a winning record (9-8) in 23 starts. He's learning to survive even when he doesn't have his best command or stuff. Command was a bit of a problem in his last start against the A's, but Ventura made it through six innings and gave up just two runs.
"This is a game of adjustments, in the second inning, I had to make a couple of adjustments. I was flying open a little bit and I was able to make the adjustment, and was able to go deep in the game," Ventura said.
Ventura's margin of run support and the results are interesting. He's 8-0 with a 2.23 ERA in 10 starts when the Royals score at least three runs for him, but he's 0-8 with a 4.88 ERA in 12 starts when they've scored two runs or fewer.
For Minnesota, Phil Hughes gets the nod and is coming off a strong start against the A's on Sunday. The right-hander gave up just one run on four hits over seven innings to get the win.
"I felt like I had good stuff. I just missed a couple times in the first. Just a couple bad pitches," Hughes said. "But overall, I thought my stuff was good. Early, I was just missing a little bit. I wasn't able to get into a groove until later on."
Hughes is still dealing with a cracked fingernail on his right index finger, but he has been able to pitch through it the last two starts.
Royals: Cain in holding pattern
Look for center fielder Lorenzo Cain to return to the lineup on Saturday night after being out of the starting lineup for two straight games.
Jarrod Dyson started again on Friday night against Twins' right-hander Ricky Nolasco.
"We just don't look at numbers, we go back and look at the at-bats, too," manager Ned Yost said. "Cain has had some tough at-bats against Nolasco. One-for-6 with three or four punchouts."
Yost saw Dyson, who had not previously faced Nolasco, as a better potential matchup on a night that happened to be Dyson's 30th birthday. He went 1-for-2 with a triple against Nolasco.
Twins: Pino optioned to clear roster spot
The Twins optioned right-hander Yohan Pino to Triple-A Rochester to make room for Nolasco, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list to start Friday's game.
Pino, 30, last started on Tuesday against the Astros, giving up seven runs on seven hits and a walk over 4 1/3 innings. The right-hander is 1-5 with a 5.37 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 12 walks over 55 1/3 innings in 10 starts with the Twins this season.
The tentative plan is to bring Pino back up to start a game in a doubleheader against the Tigers on Aug. 23, as the Twins are allowed to bring up a 26th player for the twin bill.
"He'll pitch a game down there and then we have a doubleheader against the Motown Tigers a week from tomorrow," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "So if it works out right, and he pitches well, we can bring him back to start that ballgame. So we'll let him go down there and pitch."
Nolasco, meanwhile, made his return to the mound after missing 32 games with a right elbow strain. He was originally placed on the 15-day DL on July 7.
• Just four days after he was traded from the Twins to the Royals, Josh Willingham made his return to Target Field to face his former team on Friday and went 1-for-4, including a bases-clearing double that sparked a pivotal five-run fourth inning.
• The Royals, with a 34-26 road record, are tied with four other teams for the third-most road wins in the Majors.
Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.