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The Journal Gazette

Monday, May 18, 2009 10:21 am

Indians-Royals Preview

By ALAN FERGUSONSTATS Writer

Brian Bannister didn't make the Kansas City Royals' roster out of spring training, but got an opportunity to return to the majors in late April against the Cleveland Indians.

The right-hander has since proved that he deserved to be in the rotation all along.

Facing the Indians for the first time since that April start Tuesday night, Bannister will try to help the Royals (20-18) continue their improved play in the opener of a three-game home series.

After going 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA in 2007, Bannister went 9-16 with a career-worst 5.76 ERA last year. He began this season in Triple-A Omaha, but reliever Doug Waechter's injury and starter Horacio Ramirez's ineffectiveness opened the door for Bannister to re-establish himself April 22 in Cleveland.

Bannister (3-1, 1.80 ERA) tossed six innings and gave up four hits and two walks in a 2-0 victory, a performance that was a sign of things to come. He's allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his five outings, and only exited after 5 2-3 innings Wednesday night because of shoulder stiffness.

Bannister gave up two runs in a 7-2 loss at Oakland.

``It was the right move,'' Bannister said of the decision to pull him. ``This has happened a couple of times in my career where I've had mild tendinitis and I've dealt with it. I just throw a little less between starts. I was having trouble getting on top of my pitches. I was throwing well to that point.''

The right-hander will try to win his fourth straight start over the Indians on Tuesday. He's 4-1 with a 1.62 ERA in six career starts against Cleveland.

The Royals have won two of three since a season-high six-game losing streak. Kansas City, 8-2 in its last 10 at Kauffman Stadium, took two of three from Cleveland at home from April 13-15. The teams have split six games this season.

After batting .221 during their skid, the Royals have hit .290 over the last three games.

Cleveland has gotten plenty of offensive production from Victor Martinez this year, but he suffered a rare hitless game as the Indians (14-25) dropped their third straight Sunday, 7-5 to Tampa Bay.

Martinez, who leads the majors with a .401 average, went 0 for 3 with an RBI as his seven-game hitting streak was snapped. The catcher is 12 for 24 against the Royals this season and batting .424 on the road, where he's recorded 18 of his team-leading 26 RBIs.

Martinez has hit .310 in his career versus the Royals and at Kauffman Stadium, although he's 2 for 10 against Bannister overall.

If Cleveland can give Cliff Lee enough runs, the left-hander might win consecutive starts for the first time this season. Lee (2-5, 3.00) has gotten 14 runs of support in his two victories but only two in his other six outings.

``I feel like I've given the team a chance to win basically every time I've pitched,'' Lee said. ``We haven't gotten those wins, but I feel like I'm doing my job and doing what I can to help the team win.''

He allowed two runs over eight innings in matching up with Bannister on April 22, and threw seven innings in Wednesday night's 4-0 win over Chicago.

Lee seeks his fourth straight victory in Kansas City after going 5-0 with a 2.63 ERA against the Royals last season, when he won the AL Cy Young award.