CLEVELAND -- The Royals on Thursday will get the day off for the first time in more than three weeks. In addition to the rest provided by the break in the schedule, Kansas City can use Thursday to reconfigure its rotation for the rest of the season, and the club is taking advantage of that opportunity.
Danny Duffy, who was supposed to start Friday in Detroit, will be skipped, setting up Bruce Chen, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie to pitch in this weekend's series. Duffy has made five starts since returning to the mound following last year's Tommy John surgery -- two of which were against Detroit -- and Royals manager Ned Yost wanted to use more experienced pitchers against the Tigers.
"With the off-day -- the first one we've had in a long, long time -- it gives us the ability to skip [Duffy] one time through and use him again," Yost said. "We've got 17 games left, and you want your most veteran, your most productive pitchers on the mound as often as you can."
In making his decision, Yost considered Duffy's surgery and the lefty's recent outings, which the manager described as "high-effort starts." Duffy threw 87 pitches over 4 1/3 innings on Saturday, 91 pitches over 3 2/3 innings on Sept. 2 and 103 pitches over 6 2/3 innings on Aug. 28.
"You're always planning," Yost said. "It moves everybody up now, but it moves everybody up at the end, too, which allows us to have James Shields available for a playoff game -- another reason we did it, too. It benefits Duffy and just solidifies the rotation going through the last two and a half weeks of the season."
Duffy, 24, is 2-0 with a 1.85 ERA this season. In 31 career starts, he has an 8-10 record and 4.75 ERA.
The young lefty was not disappointed with his manager's decision.
"I understand completely," Duffy said. "No reaction, really. I'm not mad or frustrated or anything. Skip knows what he's doing."
Hochevar holding up splendidly in relief role
CLEVELAND -- When Luke Hochevar reached the mound in the seventh inning of Tuesday's game, there was one out and Michael Bourn was standing on second base, fresh off a two-run double that had trimmed Kansas City's lead to two runs.
The tide seemed to be turning Cleveland's way, and to halt the momentum shift before it got out of hand, Hochevar had to go through Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis, the Indians' Nos. 2 and 3 hitters. Hochevar struck both out, stranding Bourn at second and keeping Kansas City's advantage intact. He stuck around for the eighth inning, punching out the side and lowering his ERA to 1.70.
One year after leading baseball in earned runs as a starter, Hochevar is one of the game's most effective relievers. The Royals moved him to the bullpen before the start of the season, and his performance has improved dramatically, just as they hoped it would.
"We kind of figured that that would be the case," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. "You put him into the bullpen, where he could get a little more on the attack, refine his pitches, because we always knew he was a great competitor. He could just never get a solid foothold on having his production match his ability."
Hochevar, the first overall pick from the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, is 38-59 with a 5.44 ERA across 128 career starts. In 55 relief outings, 51 of which have come this season, he is 4-2 with a 1.89 ERA.
As a starter, Hochevar's career numbers include a 1.41 WHIP, 6.2 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.06 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Across his relief appearances, he has a 0.89 WHIP, 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings and a 4.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
"It really doesn't matter whether I'm starting or relieving," Hochevar said. "My job is to take the ball and go get outs and do what I can to help this club. That's really kind of the mentality that I've taken. It's not too complicated, just go out and execute quality pitches and try to get quick outs as efficient as possible."
Hochevar picked up his sixth hold of the year in Tuesday's win. Across 63 2/3 innings entering Wednesday's action, he had 72 strikeouts against 16 walks. And he's been an equal-opportunity menace on the mound, holding right-handed hitters to a .132 average and left-handed hitters to a .188 average.
"We just thought that it would be a perfect scenario to put Luke in and let him get after it," Yost said. "And, boy, he sure has."
Lough leaving old allegiances behind
CLEVELAND -- David Lough grew up coming to Progressive Field and cheering on the Indians. Now, as a Major League player, he's doing whatever he can to beat them.
On Tuesday, Lough made two memorable plays that helped Kansas City even the series with a 6-3 win. In the bottom of the fourth, Jason Kubel ripped a ball deep into right field. It looked like trouble for the Royals, until Lough, sprinting backward and nearing the warning track, made an unlikely catch before colliding with the wall. Then, in the eighth inning, Lough laced a hard liner into right for a triple and soon came around to score.
"I think the triple would probably be better for the team, more exciting for me, just because we scored another run," Lough said a day later. "It kind of gave us a little momentum, so it kind of helped us out."
Lough played in 20 games for the Royals last season, three of which were in Cleveland. That was special for Lough, who's from nearby Akron, Ohio. Nowadays, though, tilts at Progressive Field are more like any other.
"Last year, I had a lot of people come up," Lough said, "and this year it's just kind of like immediate family and stuff. I had some friends out in right field, but the whole huge crowd I don't think comes anymore. They'd rather watch it on TV, I think."
Quote to note
"I don't know if he's been better, because we had high expectations when we got him. But he's certainly fulfilled every one of them."
-- Royals manager Ned Yost, on whether Wednesday starter James Shields has exceeded expectations
• Kansas City starters had posted 85 quality starts this season entering Wednesday, tied for second most in the American League behind the Tigers, whose starters have 95.
• Wednesday's series finale in Cleveland was the Royals' 44th game in 44 days. They went 25-18 through the first 43.
• The Royals held a 6-9 mark against the Indians entering the game -- having gone just 2-6 in Cleveland.
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.