Kansas City guaranteed its first winning season since 2003 and kept its playoff hopes alive heading into the final week of the season thanks to Justin Maxwell's walk-off grand slam against Texas on Sunday.
But the Royals are still 3 1/2 games behind the Indians for the second American League Wild Card spot with seven left to play, so now is the time to make up some ground in a hurry. With every game essentially a must-win, they'll hand the ball to rookie Yordano Ventura on Monday -- his second Major League start -- to kick off a three-game series against the Mariners at Safeco Field.
"I am going to work harder for next time, because this is the highest level and they have really good players," Ventura said after the Royals' 5-3 loss to the Indians on Tuesday. "I want to do things well, and if you make a mistake with these good hitters, you will pay for it."
Ventura learned that lesson his last time out, giving up five hits -- three of them in the sixth inning -- over 5 2/3 innings. But the Royals liked what they saw from their 22-year-old right-hander as he hurled 97-100 mph fastballs and held the Indians to just one run.
"I thought he did great," Royals manager Ned Yost said Tuesday. "Great stuff; to get us into the sixth inning with the lead was a darn good job. I thought it was a really good debut for him."
Ventura will line up opposite another rookie right-hander, Seattle's Brandon Maurer, making his third start since returning to the rotation after spending a month as a long reliever. Maurer, 23, is just 2-8 with a 7.06 ERA in 12 starts this season, but he's coming off one of his best outings, a five-inning no-decision at Detroit in which he allowed five hits and two runs -- both on solo homers -- with two walks and six strikeouts.
"I thought he was a lot better, arguably the best overall start he's had this year," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "When you look at the time of year we're at with some of the difficulties he's had prior to this and some of the lessons he's learned, the team he was playing, I was really impressed. He kept himself together, slowed himself down at times and executed pitches."
Maurer said general manager Jack Zduriencik gave him some helpful advice before his last start: take it one pitch at a time and don't worry about what happened after the last one. Maurer also got some help from rookie catcher Mike Zunino.
"I just told him you're not going to hit your spot every time. Not everything is going to work out the way you want it to," Zunino said. "You just have to go out and battle and compete, and he did a great job of that."
Royals: Holland nearing saves record
Closer Greg Holland has a chance to make franchise history with his next one or two saves. Holland enters Monday with 44 saves, good for second on the club's single-season saves list. One more would tie him with Dan Quisenberry and Jeff Montgomery, who recorded 45 saves in 1983 and '93, respectively. Two more, and the Royals record is his.
"We don't really think about personal success that much," Holland said. "For us, we are still trying to make the playoffs so we just want to win games at this point. I really don't think that much about it."
• Catcher Salvador Perez is batting .365 (35-for-96) with 26 RBIs since Aug. 23.
Mariners: Rotation set
Seattle announced its pitching rotation for this series on Sunday, giving Hisashi Iwakuma one more start this season in the final game on Wednesday. The Mariners had thought about shutting down the All-Star right-hander after a career-high 211 2/3 innings, but instead he'll make his last turn through the rotation as scheduled.
"We talked about it," Wedge said. "But in the end, he wants to pitch. He's given us every indication that he's still strong, if you look at his last three or four outings."
• Wedge said shortstop Brad Miller will return to the starting lineup Monday after missing eight starts with a strained left hamstring.
• Mariners outfielder Raul Ibanez hit his 300th career homer Saturday night. It was also his 29th of the season, which tied him with Ted Williams for the most home runs in a season by a player age 40 or older.
• The Royals will finish the season with seven straight games on the road. Kansas City is only two games above .500 (38-36) away from Kauffman Stadium this year.