KANSAS CITY -- On a warm midday in the batting cage at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals' pitchers were dutifully practicing their bunts, their fake bunts and, of course, their mighty hacks.

Yes, it's that time again. On Tuesday at Houston, the Royals begin a six-game foray into National League cities -- Pittsburgh is the second stop -- in the wrapup to Interleague Play. And the American League pitchers go back to batting.

Reliever Ron Mahay looked pretty good, rifling off some line drives. After all, he broke in with Boston as an outfielder, so he should be something of a slugger.

"It's still in there -- somewhere," he said.

Manager Trey Hillman had his pitchers in the cage all weekend.

"There have been some good swings. In the American League, you don't expect your pitchers to affect the game offensively," Hillman said "but we all know Zack [Greinke] swings the bat well, and he's going to be [the starter in] Game 1 in Houston and we hope that will be an advantage."

Greinke not only will be trying to end a four-start victory drought, but he'll have the added incentive of batting for the first time this season. It's one of his favorite hobbies, and he's 3-for-12 in his career -- a not-bad .250. Oh, he'll tell you that hitting is not important to him anymore, but he looked pretty serious in BP on Sunday, bunting nicely and plugging the gaps and even clearing the fence.

Oddly enough, his pitching opponent is Russ Ortiz, the same guy who surrendered a home run to Greinke back on June 10, 2005. That was at Arizona, when Ortiz was pitching for the D-backs. That also was the game in which Greinke gave up 11 earned runs but got a no-decision as the Royals lost in 10 innings, 12-11.

"There's an old adage that holds very true," Hillman said. "All position players think they can pitch, and all pitchers think they can hit."

The only hitting the Royals' pitchers have done so far this year was in a series at St. Louis where they were a collective 1-for-5 (Brian Bannister had an RBI single, contributing to his 3-2 victory).

On the topic of pitching, Greinke has tailed off after a spectacular beginning. In his first six starts, he was 6-0 with a 0.40 ERA. In his past eight starts, the club is just 2-6 and he's 2-3 with a 3.21 ERA.

Hillman has his own theory about what Greinke needs to do to get back on a winning track.

"Just better command, specifically in-and-out rather than up-and-down," Hillman said. "He's caught a little too much plate with fastballs and secondary pitches. The other thing falls right into that: pitch ahead in the count more. He gets ahead, then he runs even and, at times in his last two or three starts, he's run behind and taken it to 3-2 counts."

And Greinke should not hesitate to assert himself by pitching inside to right-handed hitters, even at Houston's Minute Maid Park with its cozy 315-foot left-field distance.

"Some pitchers are fearful of pitching in with that short left-field porch, but he can't be fearful of that if he's going to be successful," Hillman said.

Pitching matchup
KC: RHP Zack Greinke (8-3, 1.96 ERA)
It's been four starts now since Greinke, at one time 8-1 and an early-season sensation, has won a game. He's been stalled with two losses and two no-decisions. On Wednesday night, the D-backs drove up his pitch count early and took advantage of two errors to go ahead. Mark Reynolds finished him off with a two-run homer, just the third blast Greinke has allowed in 101 innings this season. He struck out nine, boosting his total to 106 against only 18 walks. This will be the first time Greinke has faced the Astros.

HOU: RHP Russ Ortiz (3-2, 3.60 ERA)
Ortiz, who entered his previous start, Wednesday at Texas, having thrown 17 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, gave up seven hits and four runs -- three earned -- and struck out five batters in six innings against the Rangers in his sixth start of the season. He's 7-6 with a 3.75 ERA in 26 career Interleague games (22 starts) and has no record and a 3.21 ERA in two career starts against the Royals. His .778 winning percentage at Minute Maid Park is tied for the highest in the stadium's history by pitchers with at least nine decisions.

Crown points
Matthew Gwynn, winner of the Royals' annual Father of the Year essay contest, was in the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat on Sunday. He and his wife, Tamera, have been married for 22 years and have five children and one grandchild. His 10th-grade daughter, Katherine, submitted the winning essay. ... The Royals drew 110,234 fans to the three-game series against the Cardinals. That included two sellouts and raised the number of 30,000-or-more gates to 12 this year compared to just eight all of last year. ... This will be the Royals' fourth trip to Houston. They are 4-5 there and 7-14 overall against the Astros in Interleague Play. ... Astros catcher Ivan Rodriguez has done well against Greinke, hitting .370 (10-for-27), with one homer and four RBIs.

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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
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Up next
• Wednesday: Royals (Luke Hochevar, 2-3, 6.61) at Astros (Roy Oswalt, 3-4, 4.48), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Thursday: Royals (Brian Bannister, 5-4, 3.89) at Astros (Brian Moehler, 4-4, 6.43), 1:05 p.m. CT
• Friday: Royals (Gil Meche, 4-6, 4.11) at Pirates (Charlie Morton, 0-0, 3.00), 6:05 p.m. CT