Twins’ Nolasco encouraged by solid start

Ricky Nolasco's outing against the Royals on Tuesday was his best start in over a month. He allowed just one run and scattered eight hits while failing to walk a batter for the first time in five starts.

Jim Mone

MINNEAPOLIS — On a night when Minnesota’s offense exploded in a 10-2 win over the Kansas City Royals, the Twins’ starting pitching may seemingly be a non-factor.

But given the way things had gone for right-hander Ricky Nolasco this season, Tuesday’s outing was an encouraging one. Though he was given plenty of run support, it was important for Nolasco to get through six innings, even if it took him 100 pitches.

After signing the biggest free-agent contract in Twins history this past winter, Nolasco had not quite lived up to the expectations Minnesota had when it inked him to that deal. He entered Tuesday’s start with a 4-6 record and a 5.74 ERA — the highest of any pitcher on the Twins staff. Minnesota knew it needed to get Nolasco going.

Nolasco’s outing against the Royals was his best start in over a month. He allowed just one run and scattered eight hits while failing to walk a batter for the first time in five starts. Nolasco also showed damage control, something that has eluded him at times this season.

It all added up to his fifth victory of the season as he trimmed his ERA to 5.49. Now the hope is that Nolasco can continue to build off Tuesday’s start.

"Ricky did a nice job," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "He kind of battled early. His pitch count got up there pretty quick, but he settled in and got through six innings for us, which was great."

Twins 10, Royals 2

It was the second outing in a row in which Nolasco went six innings, but he allowed six runs on 11 hits in a loss to the Angels the last time he did so. In his three starts prior to that Nolasco failed to complete six innings. He had given up three or more runs in four of his last five starts.

Gardenhire talked before the game about Nolasco needing to improve his fastball command, something that seemed to disappear at times when he struggled on the mound. While his breaking pitches have been solid for most of the year, Nolasco’s fastball has eluded him.

His command, as a whole, was improved on Tuesday. He didn’t walk a batter and threw 68 of his 100 pitches for strikes.

"It was better," Nolasco said of his fastball. "I just try not to do too much. It’s a step in the right direction with the fastball command."

After Minnesota scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the first inning, Nolasco gave it right back when he lost a 10-pitch battle to Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas. The two-out single to right tied the game at 1 as Nolasco failed to hold the early lead.

Nolasco ran into trouble again in the third, this time allowing Kansas City to put runners on first and second with just one out. But he got Alex Gordon to send a harmless fly ball to left field and induced an inning-ending groundout off the bat of Salvador Perez to end the Royals’ threat.

"He needed to use his fastball a little bit more. I thought he did," Gardenhire said. "He knows how to get out of situations. He doesn’t panic out there. Those were two really big outs at the time."

Minnesota went on to score once in the third and three more times in the fourth to give Nolasco a comfortable 5-1 cushion. Yet even with a four-run lead, Nolasco pitched as if he were in a tight ballgame. He worked around a two-out jam in the fifth when Kansas City had runners on the corners with two outs. Again, though, Nolasco escaped by striking out Gordon by using his fastball for strike three.

Nolasco had a 1-2-3 sixth inning, just his second clean frame of the night. It wasn’t always pretty, but the veteran right-hander gave his team six innings while limiting the damage.

Oh, and the 10 runs of support didn’t hurt, as the Twins jumped on Kansas City for five more runs in the sixth. One day after Minnesota’s offense couldn’t do hardly anything against Kansas City, the Twins’ lineup broke through against Royals starter James Shields and the bullpen.

On this night, an improved Nolasco was the benefactor.

"The offense did a great job today scoring a ton of runs and making the job a little easier," Nolasco said. "I didn’t have too many quick innings, but it was just kind of a battle and I made some pitches when I had to."

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