Jarred Cosart takes the hill for the Astros, who have won four in a row, on Wednesday as they try to wrap up a 10-game, 10-day road trip with a sweep of the Royals.
After a solid debut season in 2013, when Cosart flashed a 1.95 ERA, the righty has struggled in 10 starts this year. He holds a 4.39 ERA, but pitching coach Brent Strom is most concerned with Cosart's 4.6 walks-per-nine-innings ratio and his inability to work deep into games.
"Last couple of outings, I think it's been five-plus innings each time out, I'm looking for him to go deeper in the game," Strom said. "I think the pitch total has gotten him as of late, and using his changeup more often when pitching ahead will get him a deeper result from him."
Cosart has improved in May (2.96 ERA), but he walked four batters in each of his last two starts. He's coming off a loss to the Mariners in which he allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings.
"I was happy with it in terms of the way he competed," Strom said. "I was a little disappointed in the first inning, the walk to the leadoff hitter ... that cost him a run. But he rebounded nicely."
The Royals counter with lefty Danny Duffy, who has gone through extremes in his past two starts.
On May 17, he retired the first 20 Orioles he faced before Adam Jones' single ended his bid for a perfect game. But Duffy gave up just two hits in his seven-plus shutout innings and the Royals won, 1-0.
But last Friday night at Anaheim, Duffy was tagged for nine hits and five runs in six innings by the Angels in a 6-1 loss. He gave up two home runs, ending his homerless streak at 67 2/3 innings, which had been the longest in the Majors.
This will be Duffy's fifth start since taking over from injured fellow lefty Bruce Chen. Duffy faced the Astros in relief earlier this season, gaining the victory for two innings of work in the Royals' 11-inning, 6-4 victory at Minute Maid Park.
Astros: Carter returns to lineup
After sitting out the last three games, Chris Carter will start on Wednesday against the left-handed Duffy.
Carter sitting revolved around two things, according to Astros manager Bo Porter. First, Carter has been working on making mechanical adjustments at the plate with hitting coach John Mallee. Secondly, with Porter committing to Robbie Grossman as the everyday left fielder, and Alex Presley smacking the three hits on Monday and Tuesday, there was no room for Carter.
Porter said it was tough keeping Carter on the bench for three straight games.
"It is, when you look at the fact that he can change the game with one swing, but he's working on some things with the hitting coach," Porter said. "A lot of the time when you're making those kinds of adjustments, it's probably better to get a couple of days to make them, then to be fired right back into the lineup."
The right-handed-hitting Carter is batting .192/.278/.391 this season.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to get him hot and get him going," Porter said.
Royals: Zimmer sidelined, Ventura's MRI clean
The Royals announced on Tuesday that No. 1 prospect Kyle Zimmer, who has yet to pitch this season, will be further sidelined with a strained right lat muscle. He won't even begin playing catch again for six to eight weeks or roughly about the All-Star break in mid-July.
"My guess is, it'll more on the side of eight weeks," said assistant general manager of player personnel J.J. Picollo. "Then, he'll start on a throwing program again. Really, he's starting over again -- it's Spring Training again."
Meanwhile, an MRI of prized rookie pitcher Yordano Ventura's right elbow came back clean on Tuesday. The right-hander will be held out of one start as a precautionary measure.
"I feel good that I'm only going to miss one start. It could've been worse," Ventura said through his translator, fellow pitcher Bruce Chen. "I'm very thankful to God that everything is working out."
• The Royals, who haven't hit a home run in their last eight games, rank last in the Major Leagues with 20 homers.
• Third baseman Hunter Dozier, the Royals' top pick in the 2013 Draft, was named Carolina League Player of the Week after going 11-for-20 (.550) with six walks for Class A Advanced Wilmington.
Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.