KANSAS CITY -- What a season debut it was for Felipe Paulino.
The Royals right-hander was astounding in his return from the disabled list on Saturday, shutting down the powerful New York Yankees lineup and leading the Royals to a 5-1 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
Paulino threw six shutout innings, allowing just four hits and two walks while striking out six. He retired the first 11 batters he faced before walking Alex Rodriguez with two outs in the fourth inning, and the Yankees didn't pick up their first hit until Raul Ibanez singled in the fifth.
"I feel really strong and confident in myself," Paulino said. "That's the big key in this sport, baseball -- be confident all the time when you throw your pitches and try to attack the hitter."
Paulino did just that, rarely getting into any sort of trouble during his six innings. His only jam came in the fifth inning. Ibanez and Russell Martin hit back-to-back one-out singles, and Eduardo Nunez walked with two outs. Paulino escaped the bases-loaded threat by getting Derek Jeter to ground out to shortstop Alcides Escobar.
After allowing a leadoff double to Curtis Granderson to start the sixth, Paulino picked up some defensive help from Jeff Francoeur. The Royals right fielder caught a fly ball off the bat of Rodriguez and threw out Granderson, who had tagged from second, at third base for his fifth outfield assist of the year. Francoeur also made a sliding catch in right field two batters later to end the inning.
"I really love that when I've got the defense behind me," Paulino said. "You feel more confident in your pitch, all your pitches. I'm the guy that's not afraid to give up contact, and he made a nice play behind me. That was a very exciting moment."
Francoeur acknowledged the importance of his play.
"I've seen the kind of speed that Granderson has got, and to keep [the score] at 3-0, it gave us some more breathing room," Francoeur said. "And for us to come back and put up two runs the next inning was huge."
The Royals opened the scoring in the first inning. Jarrod Dyson reached on an error by Jeter, and Alex Gordon ripped a single into right field off Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda. Dyson went to third on the base hit, and Gordon later advanced to second on a wild pitch. Both runners scored easily on a double smoked down the left-field line off the bat of Billy Butler, giving the Royals an early 2-0 lead.
Butler added another RBI in the fifth, doubling in Gordon, who had four hits on the night, to bump the Kansas City lead to 3-0. The Royals tacked on two more runs in the next inning on a Dyson sacrifice fly and a Gordon RBI double.
"I hope I get opportunities like that every day," Butler said. "The guys in front of me are doing good. Obviously, [Gordon] setting the table like he did in front of me, he did great. To get four hits is good for him, and he's coming on strong after a tough start. I'm super proud of him."
The run support allowed Paulino to comfortably pitch a gem of a game. Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano was extremely impressed with Paulino, saying that the right-hander was throwing everything for a strike.
"We knew he was a guy that throws hard, but I would say tonight he was outstanding. You've got to give credit to the guy," Cano said.
Royals manager Ned Yost compared Paulino's solid outing to the final rehab start he made before returning from the disabled list.
"He was very, very sharp in his last start, his rehab start. I got the benefit of watching it on the computer, and it was a lot like tonight," Yost said. "He was 95, 97 [mph], pitched down, pitched in, pitched out and commanded his breaking ball really, really nicely. I was hoping for the same type of outing from him, and we sure got it."
The Yankees did manage to strike against the Royals' bullpen. Martin drove in the Yankees' only run of the night with a 426-foot home run to left field in the seventh inning off Royals reliever Jose Mijares. After Mijares left with two outs in the seventh, Kelvin Herrera and Tim Collins combined for 2 1/3 innings of scoreless work.
Yost said that it was great to finally get a big win, as opposed to the litany of close games the team has been involved in lately.
"I said it today, talking to the coaches, 'When was the last time we won a ballgame 6-1, 5-1?' It was good to play that type of game, but your pitching allows that to happen," Yost said. "We scored two runs early, and [Paulino] went out, kept his thumb on them, and the bullpen came and kept their thumb on them."
The second win in three days over the Yankees gives the Royals at least a series split. A win Sunday would give them a series win at Kauffman Stadium after losing their first 10 games at home.
"We're getting back to playing our style of baseball now," Yost said. "We had that little rough patch, and now we're back to starting to be ourselves a little bit. We're starting to swing the bats better, our pitching is coming around and we knew our defense would be solid. I'm glad to see that."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.