CHICAGO -- Jose Contreras didn't have his best pitch, the split-finger fastball, and against the woeful Royals he didn't need it.
Last year it might have been a different story.
Orlando Cabrera's two-run single capped a four-run second inning for the first-place White Sox, who came home in turmoil this week after manager Ozzie Guillen called out his hitters and general manager Kenny Williams on Sunday following a frustrating series at Tampa Bay.
Things turned around quickly for the flagging White Sox hitters. It turns out they just needed to come home and face Kansas City pitching.
"It's great, believe me," Guillen said. "You can see the difference in the dugout. It seems like everybody is attacking pitches and putting good swings on the ball.
Contreras slumped badly last season as he went through personal issues and struggled on the field. He regrouped in the offseason and his mental improvement showed Thursday, battling through some early problems.
"In the past, the way he struggled today, I don't think he would've made it out of the third or fourth inning," Guillen said. "All of a sudden he's pitching tough and he started to find the plate a little bit better. His confidence level went up another notch."
Catcher Toby Hall said Contreras' split-finger wasn't there early, so they mixed in changeups and sliders to complement his fastball.
"That's what was big," Hall said. "A couple times we played around with that split. But after that, I just put down slider and change and he went right with it. He got into a good rhythm."
Contreras (6-3) allowed one run and four hits in seven innings. He hasn't lost since May 4 and is 4-0 with 1.50 ERA in his past six starts.
"When you have a four-run lead, it's easier to pitch," Contreras said through an interpreter. "Last year is a distant memory."
Thome added an insurance run in the seventh with his 12th home run for the White Sox (33-26), who lead Minnesota by 2½ games in the AL Central. The Twins will come to town for a four-game series starting Friday.
"This is a big series," Guillen said. "It's not a 'Wow, this is the series of the year,' but it's a big series."
The sloppy Royals (23-37) committed two errors and could have been charged with more. They lost their 11th consecutive road game, one shy of the franchise record, and have dropped 15 of 17 overall.
"I'm scratching my head and I'm frustrated," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "I'm upset that we can't figure out the process a little quicker. I have said this many times, but that's my responsibility to make sure we get this."
Gil Meche (3-8) dropped his third consecutive decision. He gave up four earned runs on seven hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings.
"Obviously they hit me hard, but I think as a pitching staff we're not helping our offense," Meche said. "We're giving up runs and big innings and everybody is pressing too much."
Nick Swisher opened the scoring in the fourth with an RBI single. Pablo Ozuna drove in another run on a groundout, and Cabrera's single to right, which was bobbled by David DeJesus, made it 4-0.
"We're starting to get hits when we need it," Swisher said. "Some guys are starting to hit the long ball now. Our pitching has been tremendous for us. Contreras did a great job today."
Paul Konerko led off the inning with a walk, but was thrown out at third by center fielder Joey Gathright on Thome's single. Thome then nearly got thrown out at third by DeJesus on Jermaine Dye's double.
The Royals got a run in the third when Gathright stole third and scored on third baseman Ozuna's error. Ozuna got one back in the fourth when he reached on an error and scored on Alexei Ramirez's single.
Thome homered to left off reliever Joel Peralta with two outs in the seventh. The slugger was 1-for-10 in the first two games of this series, but he hit a 464-foot home run Wednesday.
Kansas City's Mark Teahen hit a home run for the third consecutive game, hitting his sixth home run in the ninth off Nick Masset.
White Sox 3B Joe Crede sat out with a bruised right wrist. He left the game Wednesday after getting hit by a grounder. X-rays were negative, and Crede said he thought he could play Friday. ... The White Sox selected Georgia SS Gordon Beckham with the eighth pick of the amateur draft and took Wichita State OF Kenny Williams Jr., son of the team's GM, in the sixth round. ...Chicago improved to 17-8 in the division. ... Ramirez is hitting .372 with six RBI in his past 11 games. ... DeJesus' triple in the fifth extended his hitting streak to nine games. ... Teahen's home run streak is the longest of his career.