MINNEAPOLIS — Last time out against the Royals, Twins starter Kevin Correia lasted just two innings. The right-hander was knocked around on Aug. 5 in a rout at the hand of Kansas City in one of his shortest outings of the year.
Three weeks later, Correia was tasked with matching Royals starter James Shields for much of the game. He did just that, pitching seven scoreless innings. After Correia’s exit, however, Minnesota’s bullpen imploded and Kansas City walked away with a 6-1 win in the series opener at Target Field.
For Correia, the strong start continued an upward trend since that two-inning loss to the Royals early this month. In his next four starts including Tuesday, Correia has gone at least 6 2/3 innings in each and posted a 1.92 ERA in those four combined outings. That includes two seven-inning scoreless efforts.
“My last start (against the Royals), I think I gave up six runs and only threw two innings. That kind of skews the numbers,” Correia said after Tuesday’s loss. “They just have a lot of good, young hitters.”
Correia kept Kansas City’s young hitters in check this time around, equaling his season high with seven strikeouts. He needed a career-high 118 pitches, however, to get through seven innings, thanks in part to an 11-pitch battle with Eric Hosmer that eventually ended in a lineout to cap the seventh inning.
It was the most pitches thrown by a Twins pitcher since Carl Pavano also threw 118 pitches back on Sept. 2, 2011 against the Angels. Correia did so despite having to endure the heat Tuesday in Minneapolis; the temperature reached 91 degrees at the game’s first pitch.
The steamy Minnesota summer night didn’t seem to bother Correia, who left a pair of runners on base in the second inning and worked around a one-out double by Alex Gordon in the third. Correia once again escaped a jam in the fourth when he loaded the bases with two outs but got Jarrod Dyson to ground out to keep the game scoreless.
Again in the fifth, the Royals had two men on thanks to back-to-back walks by Emilio Bonifacio and Eric Hosmer. And again, Correia wriggled his way out of it by striking out Billy Butler and inducing an inning-ending groundout off the bat of Salvador Perez.
In Correia’s final inning of work, he needed that 11-pitch at-bat to Hosmer in order to strand Bonifacio on second base to end yet another Royals threat.
“Obviously one hit in one of those situations and they’re taking a lead,” Correia said. “I’m pitching against their ace. The guy’s a really good pitcher. You know you’ve got to go out there and put up as many zeroes as you can to try to match him.”
Shields ultimately did surrender a run in the bottom of the eighth, but not before the Royals jumped on Twins relievers Jared Burton and Caleb Thielbar for a combined five runs in the top of the inning. The implosion by the bullpen cost Correia after yet another solid outing. Burton was charged with four of the five runs in the eighth, while Thielbar gave up three hits and allowed another run to score.
After his career-high 118 pitches, though, there was no way Correia was going back out for the eighth. He has now thrown the third-most innings in a season (154 1/3) during his 11-year career and has continued to eat up innings for Minnesota in an otherwise shaky starting rotation.
Correia once again did his job Tuesday night, but he received little help from the bullpen or the Twins’ bats.
“A strong effort by him.” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He pitched very well, matched Shields inning for inning out there.”