Floundering Royals look to end skid against Athletics

Floundering Royals look to end skid against Athletics

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Oakland Athletics hope to take another step forward on what could be their most important homestand of the season when they host the Kansas City Royals on the second night of a four-game series Friday.

Having had his start pushed back one day so that the A’s could squeeze previously injured Paul Blackburn into their rotation, right-hander Frankie Montas (2-0, 0.64) will seek a second consecutive win over a Kansas City team that shows no signs of turning around a disappointing season.

Seeking to avoid his team’s sixth consecutive defeat, right-hander Jakob Junis (5-5, 3.62) will oppose Montas.

The A’s opened a 10-game homestand with a 4-1 win over the Royals on Thursday night, getting six sharp innings from Blackburn and, most important, a nine-hit attack against three Kansas City pitchers.

Oakland began the homestand, which also features Houston and the Los Angeles Angels, two teams ahead of the A’s in the American League West, with just a .500 home record. The offense has taken the blame for the unimpressive mark, with the A’s having hit just .222 in their first 30 home games, the second-worst team average in the AL.

A’s manager Bob Melvin did some lineup tinkering for the homestand opener, moving everyone in the middle of his lineup up a spot and demoting Marcus Semien, mired in an 0-for-17 slump, from second to sixth.

New cleanup man Matt Olson responded with his 13th home run of the season and Semien showed signs of life with two hits, helping the A’s record more hits in one game (nine) than they’d accumulated in the last two games of their previous homestand against Tampa Bay (eight).

Montas has no complaints about the support he’s gotten, especially the 16 runs he received when he faced the Royals in Kansas City last Friday. Of course, that game was on the road.

The 25-year-old has been impressive in both his starts this season, and in both his career outings against the Royals, against whom he’s 1-0 with a 1.00 ERA in two head-to-heads.

Montas will see a different look from the Royals this time around, with the club having traded leadoff man Jon Jay to the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this week for two minor-leaguers.

The Royals have not responded well to what some fear could be the start of an in-season fire sale, totaling four runs and 12 hits in their first two games without Jay.

Whit Merrifield has taken over the leadoff spot, going 2-for-9 in those games.

Junis pitched well against the A’s in a 5-1 loss on Sunday, a game that was tied 1-1 when the 24-year-old was sent back out to the mound to start the eighth inning.

He gave up the go-ahead run in the eighth before Burch Smith came on and served up a three-run home run to Olson, capping a four-run inning.

Junis has faced the A’s three times in his career, going 1-1 with a 3.14 ERA.

The Royals have yet to win on a seven-game tour of California, having lost three straight to the Angels before heading to Oakland on Thursday.

They’ve dropped five in a row overall.

A's shuffle batting order — Fowler to leadoff, Semien batting sixth

A's shuffle batting order — Fowler to leadoff, Semien batting sixth

OAKLAND — The Athletics are getting a sneak preview of the future Thursday night as Dustin Fowler bats leadoff in the first game of a three-game series at the Coliseum against the Kansas City Royals.

Fowler, whose bat has come around of late after a slow start following his promotion from Triple-A Nashville, is part of a batting order shuffle in which shortstop Marcus Semien drops to No. 6 after being either first or second all season.

“Just changing things up a little bit,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Sometimes you want to get a guy out of a certain spot and give him a look somewhere else. Marcus has been such a versatile guy for us over the years, whether he’s hitting at the bottom, in the middle, he can get on base, he can score runs, he can knock in runs too.

“There’s no doubt he’ll be back up toward the top of the lineup, probably leading off against (Danny) Duffy on Saturday. Just mixing it up a little bit.”

Semien was 1-for-19 on the A’s give-game road trip to Kansas City and Texas, and was 0-for-10 against the Rangers. Fowler was 8-for-18 (.444) with a pair of home runs and four RBIs.

Fowler, acquired in the trade that sent Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees last year, is expected at some point to assume the leadoff position on a regular basis.

“That’s what we envisioned when we got him,” Melvin said. “I didn’t probably expect him at that spot right now, this quickly, but he’s swinging the bat well right now . . . he’s probably our fastest guy and a guy that’s led off during the course of his career.”

Part of Fowler’s appeal is his ability to steal a base. He had eight with Nashville before he was recalled and is tied with Semien for the team lead with four. The A’s are dead last in the Major Leagues with 12 steal and been caught 13 times.

“We haven’t been too productive stolen base-wise,” Melvin said. “He’s probably our best option as far as that goes. So that’s one of the reasons hes’ up there too. We feel like once he’s in there on a consistent basis, our stolen base numbers should go up. But to this point in the season that hasn’t been one of our strengths.”

— Paul Blackburn, who makes his 2018 starting debut against the Royals, is the 10th different starting pitcher for the A’s this season. Currently on the disabled list for Oakland are starters Brett Anderson (left shoulder), Daniel Gossett (right elbow) and Andrew Triggs (right arm nerve irritation).

Blackburn, a Brentwood product, spent all season on the disabled list with forearm strain. He was rushed back to the big club after a single rehab start for Single-A Stockton. He gave up eight hits and three earned runs in 3 2/3 innings against Modesto in his lone rehab start

Triggs threw a bullpen session Thursday, will have another one Sunday, and then will likely be sent out for a rehab assignment before determining whether he’s ready to rejoin the club.

— Catcher Bruce Maxwell, hitting .182 in 18 games as the backup to Jonathan Lucroy, was sent to Triple-A Nashville to make room for Blackburn on the roster.

“It is difficult for a player that’s used to playing quite a bit to acclimate to that role, whether it’s once or twice a a week,” Melvin said. “I think in the long run, this will be good for him . . . it’s finding a niche and a work ethic that suggests you can be successful without regular at-bats. I think if we get him some consistent at-bats he’ll be better for it once he gets back.”

— Austin Piscotty, the younger brother of A’s right fielder Stephen Piscotty and a 38th-round draft pick out of St. Mary’s, will report to the club’s minor league complex in Arizona to begin his professional career.

“I’ve talked to Stephen about him some earlier this season,” Melvin said. “It’s kind of cool to get someone in your system like that. Seems to be a gritty little player. Nice to have someone locally, as we do a couple of guys, and when you ahve someone who plays for your big league team and you have an opportunity to do it, seems like a good idea to me.”

Said Stephen Piscotty: “He’s ready.”

Another local product, Joe DeMers of the University of Washington and Pleasant Hill’s College Park High, will pitch for pitch for the Huskies this weekend in a best-of-three Super Regional against Cal State Fullerton with a berth in the College World Series on the line.

The A’s selected DeMers in the 20th round. A former two-time Bay Area News Group East Bay Player of the Year, DeMers still has a year of college eligibility remaining.

— Reliever Santiago Casilla, off a rehab assignment for the Class A Stockton Ports in San Jose, could be reinstated to the roster as soon as Friday.

— Outfielder Boog Powell (right knee) was transferred to the 60-day disabled list.

2018 MLB Draft: Oakland Athletics select Kyler Murray with the 9th overall pick

2018 MLB Draft: Oakland Athletics select Kyler Murray with the 9th overall pick

With the 9th overall pick in the draft, the Oakland Athletics have selected outfielder Kyler Murray from the University of Oklahoma. Murray went unmocked in ESPN and Baseball America’s mock drafts due to signability concerns stemming from his status as the starting quarterback at OU.

Murray is considered to be an elite athlete with the skills to play a stellar defensive center field at the major-league level while making a strong impact on the basepaths. While he’s still a work in progress as a hitter, he had a very strong season at the plate with the Sooners this spring, posting a .296/.398/.556 slash line with 10 homers and 10 steals in 189 at-bats.

There are obvious question marks about whether Murray will be willing to join the A’s, seeing as he has the chance to be the top QB for one of the top college football programs in the country — and eventually to pursue an NFL career. But by taking Murray this early, the Athletics are signaling that they believe they can sign him.

Frankie Montas to start for A's on Sunday, Trevor Cahill pushed back one day

Frankie Montas to start for A's on Sunday, Trevor Cahill pushed back one day

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22: Frankie Montas #47 of the Oakland Athletics poses for a portrait during photo day at HoHoKam Stadium on February 22, 2018 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Photo: Justin Edmonds / Getty Images

Photo: Justin Edmonds / Getty Images

MESA, AZ – FEBRUARY 22: Frankie Montas #47 of the Oakland Athletics poses for a portrait during photo day at HoHoKam Stadium on February 22, 2018 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Frankie Montas is getting another shot with the A’s, this time as a starter.

The right-hander, obtained in the Rich Hill-Josh Reddick deal with the Dodgers in 2016, will be on the mound Sunday against Arizona, with Trevor Cahill getting pushed back one day to Monday. Cahill has made two starts since coming off the DL on May 16; he missed 10 days with a right elbow impingement.

Montas, who put up a 7.03 ERA in 23 relief outings with Oakland last year, is pitching well recently at Triple-A Nashville, despite his 1-5 record. His ERA in May is 3.24.

“Talking to our people, Frankie is pitching pretty well right now,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s throwing strikes, he’s had a couple of good outings. … He’s got a great fastball but it was working on his offspeed stuff, throwing it for strikes, throwing it behind in the count, and they feel like he has that under control.”

The A’s other option at Nashville was Kendall Graveman, the A’s Opening Day starter. Graveman, sent down to work on his revamped delivery, has allowed four runs in 12 innings in his two starts since he was most recently demoted, but he started for Nashville on Thursday.

Susan Slusser is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @susanslusser