MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It’s been a rocky season and a quarter for Ricky Nolasco since he joined the Minnesota Twins. The weight of a four-year, $49 million contract proved too much to bear in his first season, and his second year started with a trip to the disabled list.
He walked off the field on Monday to a warm ovation from the same fans that have booed him so often, and it looks like Nolasco and the Twins are picking up steam right at the same time.
Nolasco struck out five in 7 2/3 innings and Trevor Plouffe hit a three-run homer to lead the surging Twins to a 7-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Monday.
Nolasco (5-1) gave up two runs on seven hits to win his fifth straight start since coming off the disabled list. It was the first time he reached the seventh inning this year.
The Twins got 16 hits to pick up their AL-leading 16th win in May. After a 1-6 start the Twins (26-18) are now just two games behind first-place Kansas City in the AL Central.
"I really didn’t know how far he could go, but he just got locked in," Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
Joe Kelly (1-4) lasted just 1 2/3 innings. He gave up seven runs on eight hits in a performance that sapped any sense of momentum the Red Sox had after picking up two straight wins over the Angels.
Mike Napoli had two hits for Boston, but his string of three straight games with a homer was snapped.
"The energy in this clubhouse this morning was built upon the last two days, and to go out and have a game like today was very disappointing," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
As they have been doing quite often during their climb up the AL Central standings, the Twins jumped on their opponent early to give their starting pitcher a nice cushion. They put one on the board in the first inning and erupted for six more in the second inning to chase Kelly.
The Twins sent 12 men to the plate in the inning, getting Plouffe’s seventh homer of the season and RBI from Torii Hunter, Eduardo Nunez and Eddie Rosario to take a 7-0 lead.
"The last couple starts I was frustrated not being able to finish that sixth inning," Nolasco said. "So I thought it was good to go deep in the game. That’s not a fun lineup to face, ever. They can change things pretty quickly."
After the Red Sox scratched two across in the third inning, Nolasco righted himself by setting down 15 straight hitters to earn his 100th career victory.
"It’s been a long road so just to have some kind of success like that and reach that is pretty special for me and my family," Nolasco said. "Just continue going on and see how many I can rack up."
Defensive gems: Nolasco also got some help from his defense, including a stellar diving catch from Aaron Hicks in center field that saved a run in the second inning and some slick fielding from Plouffe at third base on a double play in the first and a diving stop in the seventh.
Plouffe struggled early in his career when he moved from shortstop, but Molitor said he has emerged as one of the team’s most reliable defenders this season.
"I know when I first went over there I wasn’t too good and I heard about it a lot," Plouffe said. "That’s something that just as a human being you don’t want to have people tell you you’re bad at your job."
Trainer’s room: RHP Ervin Santana threw 42 pitches in a live batting practice session on Sunday and will throw again on Wednesday as he starts to work toward an early July return from an 80-game ban for using a banned substance. . . . OF Oswaldo Arcia (right hip) is expected to play four times this week in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester. . . . RHP Casey Fien (right shoulder) is scheduled to pitch Tuesday and Wednesday for Rochester as he nears a return.
Up next: Boston sends RHP Clay Buchholz (2-5, 4.58) to the mound against Twins RHP Mike Pelfrey (3-1, 3.00). Buchholz has given up three earned runs and struck out 15 over 15 1/3 innings over his last two starts, a no-decision at Seattle and a loss to Texas. Pelfrey hasn’t faced the Red Sox since he pitched for the Mets in 2009.