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OAK@KC: Paulino fans five over six shutout innings

There may be no pitcher more under-appreciated this season than Kansas City's Felipe Paulino.

The imposing right-hander has made six starts, and he's held his opponent scoreless in four of them. In the other two, he pitched into the sixth inning and his 1.70 ERA is the lowest in baseball among pitchers who have made at least six starts.

Start No. 7 comes on Wednesday as Kansas City plays host to the Twins in the rubber match of a three-game series. Minnesota sends right-hander Nick Blackburn to the hill.

Blackburn is returning from a strained left quad in time to fill in for Carl Pavano, who is taking his place on the disabled list. Blackburn allowed four earned runs in six innings during two rehab outings, the second of which was cut short due to rain.

Before heading to the DL, Blackburn struggled, going just 1-4 with an 8.37 ERA. He said those numbers haven't been a result of confidence, but rather some physical issues.

"Even though my season has been really brutal, confidence hasn't been the issue so far," Blackburn said. "I've just always been dealing with something. I'd have good bullpens and then go into the game and something physically would kind of wear down on me.

"So that was the issue I was always running into. I know I have the stuff to get guys out."

The season has been quite the opposite for Paulino. Royals manager Ned Yost said that his success has been a result of a solid four-pitch mix. Yost added that Paulino's fastball isn't a typical two-seamer with a lot of movement.

"But it's an overpowering fastball, it jumps on you," Yost said. "He's got good deception on his delivery."

Twins: Mauer looking to make All-Star push
• Joe Mauer is in third place among AL catchers in voting for the 2012 All-Star Game, according to the first ballot, which was released Tuesday.

Mauer has returned to form, hitting .298 with a .407 on-base percentage and .419 slugging percentage in 52 games. He trails only Texas' Mike Napoli and Baltimore's Matt Wieters in votes.

• Outfielder Josh Willingham has a nine-game hitting streak, during which he is batting .364. Hitting streaks are becoming a common theme for Willingham, who began the season with a 15-game run.

• Twins relievers have allowed just one earned run in their past 21 innings.

Royals: Verdugo called up
The Royals called up left-handed pitcher Ryan Verdugo on Tuesday, optioning struggling lefty Will Smith to Triple-A Omaha.

Verdugo, who was was 3-1 with a 3.61 ERA in 11 starts, was acquired along with lefty Jonathan Sanchez in the trade that sent Melky Cabrera to the Giants.

"That was a pretty cool thing," Verdugo said of being called up. "I didn't cry or anything like that, but it's something I've been working for since I was about 6 years old, so it was actually pretty cool. I called my dad and he started crying right away, and it took me awhile to get hold of my mom and then my girlfriend was next after that."

Verdugo's parents are expected to arrive in Kansas City from Baton Rouge, La., for Wednesday night's contest.

• First baseman Eric Hosmer is riding an eight-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .321.

• Billy Butler leads the Royals with 21 multi-hit games after his two-hit performance on Tuesday.

Worth noting
• Blackburn is 2-3 with a 4.82 ERA in 12 games against the Royals.

• With their victory on Tuesday, the Royals took the all-time lead in games that the two clubs have played in Kansas City. The Royals have won 167 to Minnesota's 166.

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