KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Yordano Ventura remains an enigma for the Kansas City Royals.
The hard-throwing pitcher labored through four-plus innings in a 10-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night, the latest ineffective outing of his puzzling season.
Signed to a $23 million, five-year contract just before he started on opening day, Ventura (4-7) has a 5.19 ERA. He faced 23 batters Monday and 11 reached base — 10 hits and a walk. The right-hander struck out seven but gave up six runs.
Ventura's inconsistency baffles the Royals. He went 7-2 with a 2.63 ERA in his final 12 starts as a rookie last year and finished 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA. He even won a World Series game against San Francisco.
"He had some inconsistencies the first half (in 2014), and the second half he really took off," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We were hoping he would build off of that, but it's been a real struggle for him to this point."
After winning his first two starts of the season, Ventura has only two victories since April 12.
"I'm not feeling too good about what's going on, but I know this club needs me to be able to do what we need to do," Ventura said through a translator. "I'm going to continue to work as hard as I can to get back where I need to be."
Kris Medlen has been working hard just to get back on the mound. He had his second Tommy John surgery in spring training 2014 and sat out last season after going 25-13 with Atlanta from 2012-13.
The right-hander made six rehab starts in the minors before the Royals activated him Monday. With the short outing by Ventura, he was pressed into service.
After striking out his first two batters, Medlen gave up an opposite-field, two-run homer to Travis Ishikawa.
"I hung a changeup," Medlen said. "I knew he got it good and it didn't feel good coming out of my hand. If it touches the bat, it goes. I had no intentions of throwing it as a strike, either."
Medlen's final line: four runs, four hits, no walks and four strikeouts in 3 1-3 innings. Two runs charged to him came after he left and Luke Hochevar yielded a two-run triple to Neil Walker.
"Physically, it felt good," Medlen said. "You've got your team battling back every inning and giving runs right back to them."
It was his first appearance on a big league mound since Sept. 27, 2013, a 1-0 victory over Philadelphia with the Braves. He acknowledged there were butterflies.
"Not as many as I thought there was going to be, honestly," Medlen said.
Kendrys Morales hit a two-run homer and knocked in another run with a groundout for the Royals, hiking his RBI total to an AL-leading 65. Mike Moustakas also homered for Kansas City.
A.J. Burnett (8-3) won despite giving up a season-high five earned runs and 11 hits in his initial start since his first career trip to the All-Star Game. The 38-year-old righty pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the second.
"From the get-go, you could tell it was going to be a battle for both sides," Burnett said. "They came out swinging. We came out swinging. Early runs left and right."
Mark Melancon worked the ninth for his 30th save in 31 opportunities. He has converted a franchise-record 28 in a row.
Ishikawa doubled twice and drove in four runs. Starling Marte also had three hits, one of six Pirates with multihit games.
Pirates: SS Jordy Mercer (sprained left knee ligament) went on the disabled list and is expected to miss six weeks. ... C Francisco Cervelli left in the seventh with discomfort in his right wrist.
Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole looks for his major league-leading 14th victory Tuesday night. He is 8-1 with a 2.23 ERA in his past 10 starts.
Royals: LHP Jason Vargas will come off the disabled list and make his first start since June 8.