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CIN@HOU: Happ fans seven over seven strong innings

For pitchers Jonathan Sanchez and J.A. Happ, the 2012 season has not gone as planned.

Both starters have struggled this season, with ERA's well north of 5.00, but they're both looking to right the ship. And they'll have a chance to do it against each other on Monday in the Interleague opener between the Royals and Astros at Minute Maid Park.

For Sanchez, a lefty acquired by the Royals from San Francisco during the offseason, his new beginning came last week. He spent more than a month on the disabled list with left biceps tendinitis, and his first outing since the injury went well. He allowed just one run over five innings against the Brewers. He took a no-decision, but he kept his team in the game, and the Royals ended up winning, 4-3.

It was a refreshing sign for Sanchez, who has had a nightmare season so far in his first year in Kansas City. In seven starts, he's 1-2 and has a 5.93 ERA. Sanchez has walked more batters (24) than he's struck out (22), and he hasn't showed much longevity, yet to make it into the sixth inning this season.

Sanchez visited Minute Maid Park before, when he pitched for the Giants.

"I think I pitched good there," Sanchez said. "I don't follow numbers, I'm not a numbers guy. Just go there and have fun and play the game. I'm not a stats guy."

In three games in Houston (two starts) Sanchez is 1-2 with a 1.88 ERA. His last outing came in August 2009, when he threw seven shutout innings in an 8-1 Giants win.

If anyone can relate, it's Happ. In 13 starts this season, he's 4-7 with a 5.33 ERA. His strikeout numbers are good, with 76 batters punched out, but he's allowed 13 home runs. Entering play Sunday, only three National League starters had allowed more this season.

Unlike Sanchez, though, Happ's last outing was not a positive. He lasted just 3 1/3 innings, allowing season highs in runs (eight) and hits (11) in the Astros' 10-0 loss to the Giants in which Matt Cain threw his perfect game.

The opener marks the start of a 10-game homestand for the Astros.

Royals: Butler returns
Billy Butler, the Royals' everyday designated hitter, has been limited with the team's forays into NL parks. He crushed a game-tying home run in the ninth inning Sunday against the Cardinals but didn't start in any of the three games in St. Louis. He'll be back in the lineup Monday against the lefty Happ. In his career, Butler is a .302 (68-for-225) hitter in Interleague Play with eight home runs and 27 RBIs.

• This week's series in Houston will be a return trip for Royals catcher Humberto Quintero, who spent parts of seven seasons with the Astros. He appeared in 344 games for Houston, posting a .234 batting average over that stretch. Quintero was traded from Houston, along with outfielder Jason Bourgeois, to Kansas City in March.

• Injured outfielder Lorenzo Cain will begin a rehab assignment with Double-A Northwest Arkansas on Monday. Cain has been on the disabled list since April 11.

Astros: Keuchel's debut
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel made his Major League debut Sunday against the Rangers. He pitched five-plus innings, allowing one run on just four hits to the powerful Texas lineup. He also struck out two and walked four batters.

• The Astros made a bevy of roster moves on Sunday. Keuchel had his contract selected ahead of the game in Arlington, as Bud Norris was placed on the 15-day DL. Outfielder Carlos Lee was activated from the DL, Brett Wallace was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma, and injured pitcher Sergio Escalona was transferred from the 15-day to the 60-day DL.

Worth noting
• Sanchez and Astros catcher Chris Snyder have been frequent combatants over their careers. Snyder has just three hits in 13 at-bats against Sanchez, but he's hit a home run, driven in four runs and walked six times. Comments