Pitching-starved Royals have found a gem in Felipe Paulino

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One of the things holding the Royals’ rebuilding effort back despite a steady influx of young talent is their lack of quality starting pitching, as former No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar has a 5.39 career ERA at age 28 and 23-year-old Danny Duffy blew out his elbow after showing lots of promise.

Kansas City’s starters rank 27th in ERA this season after ranking 29th last season and 29th in 2010. That makes it tough to contend regardless of how well the young hitting talent fares, but the Royals appear to have snagged at least one high-upside arm for the rotation in right-hander Felipe Paulino.

Paulino always had a big-time fastball and good strikeout rates, but they came along with spotty control, trouble keeping the ball in the ballpark, and lots of health issues for the Astros and then briefly the Rockies. Colorado designated him for assignment in May of last season, eventually trading him to Kansas City for cash considerations, and Paulino stepped into the Royals’ rotation with great results ever since.

He made 20 starts last season and has made four starts this year since missing April with a forearm injury, throwing a total of 150 innings with a 3.66 ERA and 148/55 K/BB ratio. During that time Paulino’s average fastball of 95.2 miles per hour is the third-highest velocity in baseball and he’s improved his control from terrible to merely bad while serving up just 11 homers in 634 plate appearances. And that’s while moving from the NL to the AL.

Stockpiling young pitching prospects only to see a 28-year-old acquired for some petty cash emerge as the team’s best starter wasn’t exactly the Royals’ plan, but right now Paulino looks capable of being a long-term building block for a rotation that desperately needs one.

Watch: Mike Trout ties MLB record with his 25th home run

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It was only a matter of time before Mike Trout courted another all-time record, and on Saturday, he found himself in elite company with his 25th and 26th home runs of the season. He put the Angels on the board with a 429-foot blast in the first inning, depositing an 0-1 fastball from the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman into the left field bleachers:

In the third inning, with the Angels up 2-1, Trout returned to tack on another insurance run. He targeted Gausman’s slider for his second solo shot of the evening and cleared the center field fence with a 418-footer to bring his total to 26 home runs on the year.

Trout has mashed at a staggering .339/.471/.596 clip since his return from the disabled list last month, and Saturday’s totals helped mark his sixth consecutive season with at least 25 home runs. That’s a record few have matched before their age-26 season; in fact, only Hall of Fame sluggers Eddie Mathews and Frank Robinson have ever pulled it off.

Assuming he continues to rake in hits and plate appearances over the last six weeks of the regular season — and there’s nothing to indicate that he won’t — Trout is in line to join elite company of a different kind. The 26-year-old entered Saturday’s game with a 206 OPS+ (park-adjusted on-base plus slugging). According to MLB.com’s Matt Kelly, that means Trout’s hitting at a better clip than the average Major League player by a full 106 percent. Should he finish the year with a 200 OPS+ and 502 plate appearances or better, he’ll be the first player to do so since Barry Bonds obliterated the competition with his 263 OPS+ in 2004.

Blue Jays acquire Tom Koehler from Marlins

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The Blue Jays acquired right-hander Tom Koehler from the Marlins in exchange for minor league right-hander Osman Gutierrez and cash considerations, the clubs announced Saturday. Koehler is in his sixth year with the Marlins and stands to make $5.75 million in 2017. He’ll be arbitration eligible in 2018 and is set to enter free agency by 2019.

The 31-year-old right-hander struggled to a 7.92 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 over 55 2/3 innings with Miami in 2017. He was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans in late July, where he rebounded with a 1-1 record in seven starts and whittled his ERA down to a 1.67 mark. The Blue Jays have yet to establish Koehler’s role within their organization, but are hoping to see a turnaround from the righty when he breaks back into the big leagues.

Gutierrez, 22, was assigned to Single-A Greensboro on Saturday. He has yet to find his footing in the minors, and exited a 78-inning stint with Single-A Lansing after racking up a career-worst 7.85 ERA and 8.2 SO/9. His lack of control is particularly alarming, with a 6.2 BB/9 that dwarfs the 2.0+ BB/9 of seasons past, but he still has plenty of time to figure out his mechanics before reaching the Show.