MINNEAPOLIS — P.J. Walters’ last start was one to forget. His latest outing wasn’t much better.
One game after he was yanked in the first inning, Walters lasted just three innings Friday at Target Field. The Twins right-hander was hit around by the Royals and allowed six runs on six hits as Kansas City went on to top the Twins by a 9-3 final.
“That’s two in a row where I haven’t done my job,” Walters said.
It was déjà vu for Walters and the Twins, as he was fell behind 3-0 before he could record the second out of the game. He escaped the rest of the first inning unscathed but ran into trouble again in the second. Lorenzo Cain doubled to lead off the second and later came around to score on a line drive smashed up the middle by Alex Gordon for an early 4-0 Royals lead.
Over his last two starts, Walters has allowed 12 runs on seven hits in just 3 2/3 innings of work — a 29.45 ERA. Last time out against Cleveland he issued five walks. While he walked just one Royals batter Friday, it cost him as Alcides Escobar came around to score on a three-run home run by Billy Butler.
The walks were not much of an issue Friday. Instead, Walters was leaving the ball over the plate too much. That was the case on Mike Moustakas’ two-run homer off Walters in the third inning as the Twins right-hander left a changeup over the heart of the plate after falling behind 2-1 in the count.
“My whole game plan is to attack the zone, get strike one and go from there and get quick outs,” Walters said. “If you fall behind guys 2-1, 3-1, you have to come over the middle of the plate (and) they’re going to hit it.”
Walters’ first few starts of year with the Twins after his call-up in late May were solid. He allowed just two runs in six innings in his season debut against Detroit and earned the win one start later against the Brewers.
It wasn’t until June 16 where Walters had his first rough outing. He allowed four runs on nine hits and three walks as he took the loss against the Tigers. The next time out was Walters’ worst start of the year by a long shot. He recorded just two outs, walked five batters and gave up six runs to the Indians before getting the hook.
Instead of building on those strong starts in late May, Walters has gone the other direction in recent weeks.
“We all have games where we struggle. Everybody in the league has them,” Walters said. “I’ve just put two of them in a row together. In my eyes, that’s unacceptable. To the team, I’m sure it is too. I expect to pitch better than I did when I first got here every time, but obviously I’ve got some things I need to work on and get better at right now.”
After Walters gave way to the bullpen in the fourth inning, Minnesota reliever Anthony Swarzak gave up three more runs, including a pair of homers. The Twins’ offense actually swung the bats well Friday as they picked up 10 hits. But they also left nine runners on base, including three in the eighth when they loaded the bases with no outs but left the bags full.
Still, Walters’ abbreviated outing put the Twins in an early 6-0 hole, one that proved too big to rally from.
“Walters just couldn’t make any pitches and couldn’t get the ball where he wanted to,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It was just a bad night for him, and we got behind. I honestly thought we hit the ball pretty damn good. … A tough night for us. It all starts with your starter, and he just didn’t get it done tonight.”
The Twins have had issues with starting pitching all season and have shuffled the rotation around a bit due to injuries and underachieving. Mike Pelfrey is currently on the disabled list and Vance Worley is pitching for Triple-A Rochester after a demotion, but both could return to the Twins’ starting rotation in the near future.
Despite two bad starts in a row, Walters isn’t concerned about his place in the rotation. He’s more focused on bouncing back and making sure it’s not three straight clunkers.
“I expect to pitch good in five days,” Walters said. “I expect to come out and throw nine (innings) and win the game. That’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do every time.”