KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tim Wakefield's knuckleball must be better than Trey Hillman's.
The Kansas City manager tossed his version to Royals hitters in batting practice Wednesday afternoon, hoping to get them ready for the Boston knuckler who's second in Red Sox history with 1,778 strikeouts.
It didn't work.
Wakefield's floating, tantalizing signature pitch shut down the Royals on four hits through six crisp innings. Jacoby Ellsbury hit a three-run homer and also turned in a great outfield catch to spur an 8-2 victory that made the Red Sox 6-1 in their seven-game season series against Kansas City.
"It's happened before," said the 42-year-old right-hander (7-8), who had six strikeouts and no walks. "When I faced the Braves in '92, Bruce Dal Canton threw knuckleballs to the guys in batting practice."
Did it work?
Jed Lowrie and J.D. Drew drove in two runs apiece for the Red Sox, whose only negative note on the night was the bruised and swollen right hand of first baseman Kevin Youkilis.
Luke Hochevar (6-10) hit Youkilis with a pitch in the first inning, loading the bases. After trainers inspected the hand, Youkilis stayed in to run, but left the game when he was doubled off first to end the inning.
"It hurts like hell still," he said. "It's swollen and bruised up."
Youkilis said he hoped to play in Chicago on Friday after an off day on Thursday.
"If I feel good, I'll play," he said. "Bottom line."
Wakefield threw knuckleballs almost exclusively, tossing practically each delivery toward the plate in the 63 mph range while winning for the first time in four starts.
After Mark Teahen's two-out single in the first, Wakefield retired 10 in a row. He gave up two runs, only one earned, while striking out six and not walking a batter.
"I felt great from the time I warmed up today that I had good movement and good command," he said. "I felt good last start, too. It's a matter of continuing what I've been doing, working hard, and the results will eventually show up."
The Royals could not recall facing another knuckleballer this season.
"When he's on, his knuckleball is the nastiest pitch you've seen," said Royals first baseman Billy Butler. "Whenever he goes deep in the game it's good for them."
Royals catcher John Buck agreed that his skipper's knuckler hardly compares.
"Obviously not, or he'd be pitching in the big leagues," he said.
Hillman said Wakefield was "flat in the first inning only."
"The second inning on, he had it going. He mixed in a couple of fastballs at opportune times. It's a difficult thing when you're looking for that thing dancing and he drops a 72 mph fastball in."
Ellsbury, who appears to be breaking out of a prolonged slump, was 3-for-4 with two runs and the three-run homer off left-handed Ron Mahay. He also made a diving, tumbling head-over-heels catch of Mitch Maier's popup into shallow center after Ross Gload's two-run double shaved the lead to 3-2 in the fifth.
"Unbelievable," said Wakefield. "That was a key catch to get the two outs with a runner on second. The homer wasn't bad either."
If Ellsbury lets the ball fall, the Royals have two in, runners at first and third and only one out.
"I got a great read on the ball," he said. "I was running in. I wasn't sure I could get to it. I dove for the ball. I'll take a great catch any day. But a three-run homer to center, I'll take that, too. The home run was pretty neat."
Hochevar dropped to 0-3 in his last four starts, with an ERA of 7.48. He went 5 2/3 innings and allowed five runs on seven hits.
The Royals have assigned reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta to Triple-A Omaha. Yabuta was designated for assignment on Aug. 2 and cleared waivers. ... Wakefield retired the side in the third on five pitches. ... 2B Dustin Pedroia, whose 26-game road hitting streak is Boston's longest in 95 years, was given the night off. ... Jason Bay was 2-for-4 with two runs scored and has hit safely in each of the six games he's played for Boston.