KANSAS CITY — Now that A.J. Burnett has rejoined a rotation that includes Roy Halladay, the Toronto Blue Jays believe they are poised for improvement, and they’re only 6 1/2 games out of the wild card.
Fresh off the disabled list, the right-hander gave up three hits pitching into the eighth inning and the Blue Jays beat the Kansas City Royals 4-1 Sunday night.
Burnett (6-6) limited the Royals to two singles and Alex Gordon’s home run over 7 1/3 innings.
He struck out five and walked three in his first outing since June 28 and didn’t allow a run until Gordon led off the eighth with his 10th home run of the year.
“I think he’s going to give us a boost and finish strong,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “I think it’s going to help us out. All he’s doing is making a strong rotation even stronger.”
Burnett, who went on the disabled list twice in June because of shoulder strains, won for the first time since May 22 at Baltimore. He was 0-3 in his past five starts.
“I think it’s going to be huge for us,” catcher Gregg Zaun said. “That just adds another quality starter. A.J. is one of those guys when he’s on his game is a legitimate 1-2 (starter) on any ballclub and a lot of clubs would love to have him.
“A lot of people think he’s a potential Cy Young candidate. I agree. He’s that good.”
Burnett got 14 of his 22 outs on ground balls on a warm evening when the temperature was 100 degrees for the first pitch.
“It’s a hot day and I was trying to pace myself and not overthrow,” Burnett said. “If I go all out, I probably would have gone only two innings. I was attacking the zone.”
Jeremy Accardo worked the ninth for his 22nd save in 26 opportunities.
Lyle Overbay had three hits, including two doubles, and drove in two runs for the Blue Jays. Zaun also had a pair of doubles and scored twice, and Alex Rios had two hits.
Brian Bannister (8-7) lost for the first time since July 16, snapping a three-game winning streak. Bannister lasted just 4 2/3 innings, his shortest outing since May 4, allowing three runs on seven hits and three walks.
“The hitters were able to eliminate some of my secondary pitches because I was struggling with them,” Bannister said. “I was far too predictable when I had to throw a strike. I was just disappointed I wasn’t able to control the game enough to give my team a win.”
Rios led off the third with a triple and scored on Vernon Wells’ sacrifice fly, and Overbay’s two-out double to left-center in the fourth scored Zaun and Matt Stairs, increasing the Blue Jays’ lead to 3-0.
Zaun doubled to lead off the sixth off reliever Ryan Braun, moved to third on Ray Olmedo’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Stairs’ sacrifice fly.
The Royals threatened in the third off Burnett. David DeJesus walked with two outs and stole second, but was out at the plate attempting to score on Mark Grudzielanek’s single to right.
Grudzielanek’s hit was the only time the Royals got the ball to the outfield in the first five innings.
“Burnett was on the plate all night,” Royals manager Buddy Bell said. “He was pretty efficient pitch-wise, which is somewhat unusual for a power pitcher. We weren’t awful. We just got beat by a pretty good pitcher.”
Bell started six left-handed hitters against Burnett, but they went a combined 1-for-15 off him.
Royals left fielder Joey Gathright robbed the Blue Jays’ Aaron Hill of a home run for the second straight night.
Stairs led off the game with a double, extending his hitting streak to nine games.