By Jeffrey Flanagan and Robert Falkoff
KANSAS CITY -- Newly acquired left-hander Scott Kazmir made his Houston Astros debut a memorable one, tossing seven shutout innings in a 4-0 win over the Royals on a sweltering night (109-degree heat index) at Kauffman Stadium.
Kazmir was in command the whole way, allowing just three singles while walking one and striking out three, helping the Angels move into a virtual tie for first place in the American League West with the Angels, who lost to the Rangers, 4-2, on Friday night. The Astros (55-43) have one more win than the Angels (54-42), but also have one more loss, and sit two percentage points behind.
"It was great to get that first one out of the way," Kazmir said. "It was hot tonight and I had to conserve my pitches early on. I just wanted to pitch to contact."
Kazmir has gone at least seven innings in five of his last six starts and picked right up where he had left off in Oakland. Having made a couple of starts against the Royals while with Oakland this year, Kazmir had his plan coming in.
"It's always a cat and mouse game," Kazmir said. "I wanted to see how they reacted to me and go from there."
Astros left fielder Preston Tucker nearly hit for the cycle, delivering a single, home run and a double in his first three at bats.
"He kick-started our offense," manager A.J. Hinch said. "He can do a lot of damage and I liked the fact that he got hits to both sides of the field."
Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie struggled through four innings, giving up 10 hits, two walks and four runs. But he worked three scoreless innings after that and helped give manager Ned Yost's tired bullpen a break.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Power Surge: Tucker showed his new teammate, Kazmir, the power stroke that has been sparking the Astros in recent days. Tucker gave Kazmir a 1-0 lead in the third inning with a long homer to right. It was Tucker's fourth homer in his last five games.
"Not trying to do too much," Tucker said. "I think I did a good job of staying within myself."
Limited chances:The Royals had next to no threats against Kazmir, except for a brief rally in the fourth inning. Mike Moustakas led off with a single and with one out, Eric Hosmer held off swinging on a borderline fastball and took a walk. But Kendrys Morales flied out to right as Moustakas took third. Then Alex Rios flied out to medium center.
"He's got three above-average pitches and he throws that lefty-lefty changeup that really keeps you off balance and takes a lot of speed off of it," first baseman Eric Hosmer said of Kazmir. "He hits his spots and just goes after you, attacks you with all three of his pitches. There's really no set patterns. He can throw any pitch at any time. He was on tonight."
"He really handled us with fastballs and changeups. He really changed speeds. His fastball was 93-95 and his changeup was 74 to 80. He moved the ball around. You've just got to hope he makes a mistake and you don't miss it. But he didn't make mistakes." -- Royals manager Ned Yost, on Kazmir
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Royals issued a challenge in the sixth inning when Jake Marisnick was called safe at first on Guthrie's pickoff throw. After a challenge of one minute, five seconds, the call was reversed and Marisnick headed back to the bench.
Astros: Right-hander Scott Feldman (4-5, 4.93 ERA) will be facing the Royals for the first time this season. It will be his second start since coming off the disabled list following knee surgery. Feldman worked 5 2/3 innings against the Rangers on July 18, allowing nine hits and four runs.
Royals: Left-hander Danny Duffy (4-4, 4.24 ERA) is coming off his best start of the season -- a career-high eight innings against the White Sox in which he gave up just one run. Since coming back from the disabled list on June 24, he is 2-1 with a 2.27 ERA.
Jeffrey Flanagan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB. Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.