Hernandez wins third straight start

KANSAS CITY (AP) -- Runelvys Hernandez is recovering nicely from Tommy John surgery.

Hernandez pitched one-hit ball for seven innings and Emil Brown
hit a three-run homer, leading the Kansas City Royals over the Houston Astros 7-1 on Sunday.

Hernandez, who missed all of last season after having elbow surgery, won his third consecutive start. In four June outings, Hernandez has given up 19 hits and five earned runs in 25 innings to lower his ERA from 5.67 on May 29 to 4.62.

"This is like old school, the Runelvys Hernandez of 2003," Hernandez said. "Everything is together. I feel excited about my last four outings. I'm getting better and better, but I'm not as strong yet as before the surgery."

Hernandez went 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA in his first five starts in 2003 before his elbow injury that September.

Brown homered to left in the sixth following a single by Terrence Long and a walk to Matt Stairs. Brown, who had eight home runs and 38 RBI in 209 big-league games entering this season, has eight home runs and 37 RBI in 58 games this year. Brown's home run
broke a four-game homerless drought by the Royals.

"I was surprised when I hit it and got the barrel to it like that," Brown said. "I was kind of fooled by the pitch, so when it went out of the park it surprised me a little bit. I try not to guess on pitches but react and stay aggressive. The speed of the pitch fooled me. The home run gave us a little cushion for Runelvys."

Hernandez (5-7) did not allow a hit until Brad Ausmus' RBI single with two outs in the fifth. Ausmus' liner to left scored Morgan Ensberg, who led off the inning with a walk and stole second.

Willy Taveras was the Astros' only baserunner in the first four innings, reaching on Hernandez's error leading off the fourth.

"We were doubling up on the slider when they were expecting the fastball," Hernandez said.

The slider is what baffled the Astros hitters.

"I believe if you can throw a breaking ball in the big leagues, you can be successful," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "Hernandez was able to do that."

Hernandez matched a season high with six strikeouts and walked three. He threw 92 pitches -- 58 strikes.

"He did not want to come out of the game, but because of what he's been through we thought it was the best thing," Royals manager Buddy Bell said. "He got stronger as the game went on."

Ambiorix Burgos and Mike Wood pitched the eighth, with Wood giving up a hit, and Mike MacDougal worked the ninth to finish the two-hitter. Burgos left after walking the only batter he faced with tightness in his right shoulder. He will be examined Monday.

Astros right-hander Brandon Backe (6-5), who lasted just 3 2/3 innings and allowed seven runs and 10 hits at Baltimore in his previous start, held the Royals to one hit over the first five innings but was hurt by his wildness in the second.

"He was not making his pitches," Garner said. "Walks have been a problem. It looked liked he ironed that out and then ran into some trouble. He got better in the middle part of the game, but he was never really in any groove today that I thought he was

Backe walked four of the first seven batters he faced and threw only 16 strikes in 36 pitches in the first two innings.

"Backe struggled with his control, but he came back and did his job," Astros catcher Ausmus said. "His command wasn't what it should be, but even the home run by Brown was a good pitch."

In the Royals' two-run second, Backe walked two and threw two wild pitches. Mark Teahen, who reached on a fielder's choice, scored on Backe's second wild pitch of the inning. Ruben Gotay's two-out single scored Shane Costa, who walked and advanced on a wild pitch.

Backe gave up five runs on five hits and five walks in six innings.

The Royals padded their lead with two runs in the seventh off Astros relievers Dan Wheeler and John Franco. Gotay opened with a single and scored on David DeJesus' double to the left field corner off Wheeler. Stairs had an RBI single off Franco to make it.

Game notes
Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney missed his fourth straight game with a sprained left wrist and elbow. Sweeney hit off a tee before the game. ... The Astros dropped to 69-59 in interleague play. ... The Royals are 12-6 since Bell was named manager on May 31. ... The Royals snapped an eight-game home losing streak to the Astros.