TORONTO — As the Royals continue their look-ahead evaluations to next season, they might want to spend some effort retaining veteran left-hander Bruce Chen who, like last year, continues to provide a reliable arm to an otherwise erratic rotation.
Chen matched a career high Tuesday night with nine strikeouts when the Royals opened a three-city, 10-game road trip with a 6-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
Chen, 9-5, is a pending free agent. He exited after a two-out walk in the eighth to Mike McCoy — his only walk in a 92-pitch effort over 7 2/3 innings.
His departure came with Yunel Escobar coming to the plate — and it was Escobar's three-run homer in the sixth that marred Chen's otherwise sterling performance. Greg Holland retired Escobar on a grounder to third.
Joakim Soria pitched the ninth for his 23rd save but before giving up one run and injecting some tension into the evening.
Soria began the ninth by slipping into a 3-0 hole against Eric Thames before surrendering a double. Soria struck out home-run leader Jose Bautista but yielded an RBI single to Adam Lind.
That was it, though. Edwin Encarnacion popped to short for the second out before Soria closed the game by striking out ex-teammate Mark Teahen on three pitches.
The Royals provided Chen with 16 hits in support, including home runs by Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler — each of which ignited a three-run inning. Jeff Francoeur matched a career high, achieved on eight previous occasions, with four hits.
The Royals stung Toronto starter Brandon Morrow, 9-8, for three runs in the second inning and three more in the fifth. Hosmer's homer, which opened the second, was his 11th of the season. Butler's 16th came with one out in the fifth.
Morrow took a beating in allowing six runs and 11 hits while throwing 103 pitches in just 4 2/3 innings.
Chen opened the game by retiring the first nine hitters, including five on strikeouts, before Yunel Escobar started the fourth by snapping a zero-for-17 skid with a single into center.
But Thames grounded into a double play, and Bautista struck out. Chen then matched his season high of seven strikeouts by getting Encarnacion for the second out in the fifth.
The Blue Jays didn't get their second hit until Jose Molina's one-out single in the sixth. Mike McCoy followed with an infield single when umpire Laz Diaz ruled a throw by third baseman Mike Moustakas pulled Hosmer off first.
Yunel Escobar then crushed a fastball for a three-run homer. That quickly, the 6-0 lead was cut in half.
Chen matched his career high by getting his ninth strikeout when Lind whiffed on an off-speed pitch to start the seventh. He had nine on two previous occasions — the most recent more than 10 years ago on June 13, 2001 for Philadelphia at Tampa Bay.
The Royals jumped to a 1-0 lead in the second inning on Hosmer's homer, which came after the Blue Jays failed to get a strikeout call a check swing. It was Hosmer's first homer in 92 at-bats dating to July 27 at Boston.
That was just the start.
Francoeur followed with a double into the right-center gap. Johnny Giavotella punched a single up the middle that, initially, merely moved Francoeur to third.
But center fielder Colby Rasmus over-ran the ball for an error that permitted Francoeur to score and Giavotella to reach second. Salvador Perez's single up the middle scored Giavotella for a 3-0 lead.
Butler extended the margin to 4-0 with a one-out homer in the fifth on a line drive with sufficient carry to clear the left-field wall. It was his 16th of the season, which tied him with Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera for the club lead.
Butler's homer was also his 10th in 38 games since the All-Star break and ignited another three-run burst.
Hosmer followed with a squib single — his third hit — and stole second when Francoeur swung through a third strike. That allowed Hosmer to score when Giavotella drove a double into a left-center gap for a 5-0 lead.
Perez knocked out Morrow with an RBI triple past Rasmus in the right-center gap.