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MIN@KC: Vargas fans four in seven scoreless frames

Left-hander Jason Vargas should feel right at home when he starts for the Royals on Friday night. He spent four seasons with the Mariners and pitched more games at Safeco Field -- 61 -- than anywhere else in his career.

"I enjoyed pitching here when it was my home field and when I was a visitor," Vargas said. "It's a nice ballpark aesthetically and it's a good place to pitch."

Vargas has a 22-21 record and a 3.33 ERA at Safeco. He pitched there twice as a visitor with the Angels in 2013, going 1-1 while allowing just three runs in 14 1/3 innings.

Vargas still keeps in touch with his former Mariners teammates.

"The team's obviously a lot different even though it's only been a year, but that's how it is," he said. "I still talk to some of the guys and I saw them this spring. I have some really good friends over there."

Because of his Seattle background, he hasn't faced many of the Mariners very often. He's seen plenty of former Yankee Robinson Cano, however. Cano is 9-for-20 (.450 BA) against him.

"A pretty good hitter, huh?" Vargas said.

Mariners right-hander Brandon Maurer (1-0, 6.92 ERA) will make his fourth start since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma after injuries sidelined left-hander James Paxton (lat strain), then his replacement, right-hander Blake Beavan (shoulder inflammation).

Maurer picked up his first win of the season on Sunday in Houston, allowing four runs on six hits and two walks in five innings.

"I want to see him fight through the seventh inning now," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He did take a big step forward and hopefully he'll take another step."

Maurer, who missed most of Spring Training with recurring back and neck problems, said he does breathing exercises before starts, between innings and in the dugout to fight his tendency to get overexcited when he's on the hill.

Featuring a fastball that averages 92.6 miles per hour but tops out at 97, a changeup, cutter and hard slider, Maurer, 23, has the repertoire of a Major League pitcher. But the inability to stay calm has made it difficult for him to hold down a rotation gig since he made his MLB debut in 2013.

"I forget to breathe," Maurer said. "My heart starts racing. I try to overthink everything instead of just pitching."

Royals: Another slow start for Moustakas
Does Royals manager Ned Yost see any encouraging signs from foundering third baseman Mike Moustakas?

"Nothing really in the game, a lot in early BP's and stuff. You watch his batting practices and they're really impressive," Yost said. "But they need to start transitioning into the games."

The past two years, Moustakas followed a terrific Spring Training with a bad beginning to his regular season.

"He's just been a slow starter," Yost said. "He starts slow and he starts to press and he just makes it harder on himself sometimes. But he's making strides in that area."

Recently, Yost began working in right-handed hitter Danny Valencia at third base against left-handed pitchers in a platoon arrangement with the left-handed Moustakas.

"He's not your prototypical platoon player," Yost said of Moustakas, who the club selected with the second overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. "If you paid attention in Spring Training, he hit the ball really well against tough left-handed pitching, too. It's just getting him going, getting some hits on the board and getting him to start to feel good about being productive and he'll be fine."

On Thursday, Moustakas went 0-for-3.

"You look up and you see .152. It's taken a month to get there and it's going to take a month to get out of there," Yost said. "It's not going to happen in one night."

Mariners: Cano, Seattle cruising
While the Mariners entered their homestand having won 10 of their previous 13 games, Cano has looked more like the run producer they anticipated when they signed him to a 10-year, $240 million contract this offseason.

Entering Thursday, Cano had recorded 11 RBIs in his last 12 games, but he remains stuck on one home run.

"There's no worries. My worry is winning," he said when asked about his power drought. "Things are going really good and we're winning. I got four-and-a-half months left. ... In my head, I'm not a power hitter. I'm a guy that hits a lot of doubles."

His uptick in production dates back to April 20, when Seattle was sputtering through its season-worst eight-game losing streak. It was around that time when Cano, who entered Thursday a career .309 hitter with an .856 OPS, began to understand the new way pitchers were attacking him and stopped trying to do too much with pitches that were on the edge of the strike zone.

The adjustment has helped.

In his past 16 games going into Thursday, he was batting .338 (22-for-65) with four doubles.

"It's not that I was trying to expand the zone, but the way I've been getting pitched it's more corner to corner," Cano said. "That's what I'm getting."

Worth noting
• Alcides Escobar's five stolen bases in the San Diego series helped the Royals move up to third in the American League with 26. They led the Majors last year with 153.

• Two ex-Royals are on the Mariners roster -- catcher John Buck and infielder Willie Bloomquist.

• Left-handed hitters have had their way against Maurer this season, posting a .381/.435/.762 slash line.

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