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DET@LAA: Wilson fans six over 7 2/3 strong innings

C.J. Wilson appears to be getting hot at the right time, and the Angels will need the lefty to maintain his current form if they hope to fight their way into the playoffs.

Wilson and the Angels head to Kansas City to take on Bruce Chen and the Royals for three games with a chance to stay in the Wild Card mix before the final stretch of the season pits them against the Rangers, White Sox and Mariners. Los Angeles sits 3 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot and a half-game ahead of the Rays.

While Wilson struggled during the 11-game winless streak that preceded his current stretch, the Angels will be more than happy to hand the ball to him Friday night. The southpaw is on a three-game winning streak with a 2.41 ERA and 13 strikeouts over that span.

He's coming off one of his best starts of the year Saturday, when he held the Tigers to just one unearned run on four hits with two walks while striking out six over 7 2/3 innings -- the first time since June 8 he pitched into the eighth inning.

Wilson said he has made adjustments during his more successful stretch, focusing more on attacking the strike zone with a simple approach and more trust in his stuff. So far, it's worked, even against a tough Tigers lineup.

"I think he did a great job," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Saturday. "He was in the zone early for the most part, threw some good breaking balls in some counts to get guys out, and I think he commanded both sides of the plate, good movement on his pitches and was aggressive in the zone. That's when he's at his best."

Chen, meanwhile, has struggled in his last two outings, albeit against two high-powered offenses, giving up a combined 11 runs on seven homers over 12 innings against the Rangers and White Sox.

"It's hard to say he's throwing the ball good, but he's actually throwing the ball OK," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It's the homers that are hurting him."

But there are positives for Chen to look at, as he's two starts removed from tossing eight shutout innings against the Tigers. And in two starts against the Angels, one of which was perfect through six innings, he's allowed three runs over 11 1/3 innings without giving up a home run.

Angels: Torii Hunter, cleanup hitter?
Torii Hunter has been a fixture in the second spot of the Angels' lineup this year, but he may have found a temporary home in the cleanup spot. Hunter was moved to the four-hole Thursday against the A's against a left-handed starter and went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs, and he could find himself there again Friday against Chen and Sunday against Will Smith.

The move helps protect Albert Pujols, batting third, gives Kendrys Morales a break against lefty starters and pushes Mark Trumbo down the lineup. Scioscia admitted some anxiety about moving Hunter, who hit cleanup most of last year, away from a spot he's been successful in, but not enough to keep him from making the move.

"When you move guys around, you're always concerned," Scioscia said, "but I think the need to get some depth in our lineup behind Albert is critical."

Royals: Defense shining over last month
Since Aug. 6, the Royals have made the fewest errors and posted the highest fielding percentage in the Majors, a sign of their much-improved defense, particularly up the middle of the field with potentially plus-defenders in catcher Salvador Perez, shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain.

At the corners, Yost points to third baseman Mike Moustakas -- a potential Gold Glover if not for Texas' Adrian Beltre, in the skipper's opinion -- and outfielders Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur. Then there's Eric Hosmer at first base, who is "only going to get better," according to Yost, despite the improvements he's already made this season.

"When I first got here, we'd bumble games away, we'd boot balls away, we wouldn't turn double plays, we had bad routes in the outfield. But Dayton [Moore, general manager] and our scouts have done such a good job at getting us athletic athletes that can play defense," Yost said. "It helps when your pitching is not great and it's going to make the difference when your pitching is."

Worth noting
• Wilson is 8-8 with a 4.11 ERA and .245 opponents' average in 23 night games this season, compared to 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA and .209 opponents' average in seven day games.

• Chen is the first Royals left-hander with at least three straight seasons with 10 wins or more since Charlie Leibrandt accomplished the feat from 1984-88. Comments