Tough stretch of games ends as Royals break even

Thursday not only marked the end of George Brett’s tenure as the Royals’ hitting coach, but it also closed the book on a 20-game stretch against teams that are above .500.

The Royals pushed their record to 10-10 in games that were marked by a strong start (5-3) and finish — a 5-2 post-All Star Game homestand, with a five-game losing streak in between.

The verdict?

“It was a great homestand,” manager Ned Yost said. “The 20-game stretch was tough. Going into it, it was like, ‘OK, we’ve got to hold our heads up here.’

“The one thing about the 20-game stretch, it’s over, it’s gone. But I wish we could have those three games back in Cleveland.”

The lost weekend in Cleveland, just before the break, was a spirit crusher. The Royals wasted Bruce Chen’s six shutout innings and dropped the opener 3-0. Two close losses to the Indians followed. When combined with two losses at Yankee Stadium, the Royals, who had climbed to within a game of .500 a few days earlier, fell to 43-49.

But the team bounced back at home after the break, taking two of three from Central-leading Detroit and winning three of four against the Orioles.

With a road trip at hand to Chicago, Minnesota and New York to meet the Mets, and the next homestand starting with the Twins, the Royals won’t play a team with a winning record until Boston arrives on Aug. 8, a stretch of 12 games.

Before then comes the Wednesday trading deadline. The Royals entered Thursday in third place, eight games behind the Tigers, with their best record at this point in the season since 2003. Could they be buyers, sellers or stand pat?

A disaster of a stretch might have made the decision easy. Now? There appears to be no easy decision.

Paulino’s next step

Right-hander Felipe Paulino got a thumb’s up from Yost after pitching a two-inning simulated game on Thursday.

“He threw the ball good,” Yost said. “Good zip on his fastball, good breaking ball. His command was a little inconsistent, but that’s like you’d expect it to be.”

Paulino continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery. Yost said Paulino’s path would continue in Surprise, Ariz., with a three-inning simulated game Monday. If there are no problems, he’ll be off to Northwest Arkansas to begin his rehab assignment.

Blast instead of bunt

With a swing of the bat, Eric Hosmer changed Wednesday’s game. His two-run homer in the eighth tied it at 3-3 and the Royals won it in the ninth.

It might not have happened had Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen thrown a strike to Hosmer when he tried to bunt for a base hit.

“I saw (Manny) Machado back in the shift there, and we needed to get base runners,” Hosmer said. “I’m trying to get on for Billy (Butler) and Salvy (Perez). If they’re going to give you something, you have to try and take it.”

Machado was stationed near shortstop, opening a bunt opportunity. Hosmer didn’t lay it down, but the Orioles wished he had. Hosmer’s home run into the fountain was measured at 435 feet.

Minor details

A nice Thursday for Royals top pitching prospects Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura.

In his second start for Northwest Arkansas in Class AA, Zimmer pitched six shutout innings and struck out 12.

Ventura went five innings and surrendered one run while striking out three for Class AAA Omaha.

Harvey back in Lincoln

Former Royals All-Star Ken Harvey is going back to school.

Harvey has joined Nebraska’s baseball staff as a student assistant coach as he works on his undergraduate degree. Harvey played for the Cornhuskers from 1997 to 1999 and ranks second in school history with a .426 career batting average. He’ll serve on a Nebraska staff headed by another former major-leaguer, Darin Erstad.

The Royals selected Harvey in the fifth round of the 1999 draft, and he made his major league debut in 2001. He was the Royals’ representative in the 2004 All-Star Game.