KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Two struggling right-handers - Phil Hughes for the New York Yankees and Luke Hochevar for the Kansas City Royals - started Sunday, both with earned run averages north of 7.
Hughes, who is looking over his shoulder with Andy Pettitte pitching in the minors and getting close to returning to the Yankees rotation, had his best start of the season. Hochevar had his worst.
Robinson Cano hit a grand slam and Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run blast to support Hughes' good outing as the Yankees routed the Kansas City Royals 10-4 to split the four-game series at Kauffman Stadium.
Hughes (2-4) gave up three runs on six hits in 6 2/3 innings, his longest outing of the season, to pick up the victory. He walked one and struck out seven before being pulled after Humberto Quintero's bases-empty home run in the seventh.
"I thought he located his fastball," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I thought he had a good changeup today that was effective; he used his other pitches as well. He used some cutters and some curveballs. I liked his changeup today, and I thought the command of his fastball was good. I think his last fastball might have been 94, 95, so it was there all day so we want to see that."
The shadow of Pettitte returning can loom large over a young pitcher.
"I think it's what you do with things," Girardi said. "Things can paralyze you or motivate you as a human. There's going to be talk. If you don't want somebody to take your job, go out and pitch lights out. That's the bottom line. This is a club that, if you're not playing well or not pitching well, they're going to make adjustments anyway. It's the club that we live with. It's not a club where you take a young player and say, 'You're going to get 32 starts no matter what.' We just don't do that here. Bottom line is that you have to produce."
Hughes and the Yankees' offense did, but Hochevar did not.
Hochevar's ERA ballooned to 9.00, allowing nine of the 15 batters he faced to reach base and exited trailing 7-1.
Hochevar, the first player picked in the 2006 draft, was pulled after 2 1/3 innings, allowing seven runs on seven hits, two of them home runs, a walk and a hit batter. In his past two starts, Hochevar has surrendered 16 earned runs on 19 hits and four walks.
"Right now Hoch is just kind of in a rut and having trouble getting out of it," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He went to Detroit and had a bad game and had another bad game today. I'm not really sure what it is. His stuff is good. He gets to a point where he starts fighting his location, and balls are hitting the fat part of the plate. Pitchers do get into slumps like hitters do. He's definitely in one right now, but it's not something I think he can't work himself out of and get to be a productive member of our rotation."
Yost says Hochevar won't be removed from the rotation.
"I don't think we need to do anything that drastic," Yost said.
The Yankees batted around in a six-run third, which included Cano's eighth career grand slam, and a Nick Swisher home run. Swisher had missed the previous six games with a strained left hamstring. The inning also included singles by Dewayne Wise, Derek Jeter (a bunt), Curtis Granderson (his 1,000th career hit) and a Rodriguez hit-by-pitch.
"When you give up a grand slam, that's not what you want," Hochevar said. "But then again I need to get back to square one and figure it out and get things going and start helping this club and not be putting us in a hole early in the game. I've just got to bear down and find out whether I'm falling into patterns or whatever it is."
Rodriguez's eighth-inning home run off rookie left-hander Tommy Hottovy with Jeter and Wise aboard capped the Yankees scoring.
Hughes, who had yielded eight runs on nine hits -- three of them home runs -- in 8 1/3 innings in losing his previous two starts, gave up a run in the first when Alex Gordon, who had walked, scored on a Billy Butler double. Gordon singled home Irving Falu in the fifth for the second Kansas City run.
Raul Ibanez's single in the second inning scored Mark Teixeira with the first Yankees run.
NOTES: Pettitte gave up five runs, three earned, on eight hits and two walks, while striking out five, in five innings in a Sunday start for Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre against Pawtucket. He threw 62 strikes in 95 pitches. It was Pettitte's fifth minor league start, including one in extended spring training. He was signed to a minor league contract March 16. ... Falu made his debut after 949 games more than 10 years in the minors. He tripled in his first at-bat in the second inning. He joins Brian McRae, 1990, and Edgar Caceres, 1995, as the only Royals to triple in their first plate-appearance. ... Granderson has reached base via hit or walk in 27 consecutive games. ... The Yankees are off Monday before opening a homestand Tuesday with the Rays. RHP David Phelps (0-1, 3.74) will start for the Yankees, while the Rays will start RHP Jeff Niemann (2-3, 4.05). ... The Royals have stroked at least one double in their first 27 games. .. The Yankees top the majors with 44 home runs. They are 0-5 when failing to hit a homer.
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