Scoring first has been a mantra behind the Minnesota Twins’ revival. An autograph from a child seems to have sparked Mike Napoli’s surge.
The surging Twins look for another fast start Monday when they host Napoli and the Boston Red Sox in the opener of this three-game set.
Minnesota (25-18) has turned around its season with a 16-6 stretch, scoring first in 12 of those victories. The Twins have tallied the opening run in seven straight games, winning five after scoring the first five runs in an 8-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.
"We always preach that, whether that’s a leadoff homer or whatever, score first," said Brian Dozier, who hit a leadoff homer and added a three-run shot in the seventh.
The second baseman has eight of his nine homers and 18 of his 24 RBI in that 22-game stretch, but he’s 4 for 32 with 10 strikeouts in his past nine against Boston (21-23).
The Twins are 15-6 in May after they went 10-12 in April and have won six of their past seven series.
"We’ve got a lot of confidence in here," pitcher Kyle Gibson said.
Confidence should be less of a problem now for Napoli, who is 5 for 9 with four homers and eight RBI in three games — all with a bat he had signed by a child. He had a two-run homer and drove in another pair on a double, spurring the Red Sox’s 6-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.
"Sometimes there’s kids in the dugout (pregame) and I go up and have them sign my bat," said Napoli, who only knows the child’s first name — Ethan. "It’s kind of crazy, the first home run I hit the other day I hit right where he signed it. That was pretty cool."
Napoli’s hot stretch comes after he had a .178 average with four homers and 13 RBI through his first 36 games.
The Red Sox will try to make it eight wins in 10 tries against the Twins as Joe Kelly (1-3, 5.13 ERA) takes on the mound.
The right-hander is winless in seven starts since beating the New York Yankees in his season debut, but has allowed three runs over 13 1/3 innings in his last two. That’s in stark contrast to his previous four outings, during which he posted an 8.86 ERA.
Kelly was a hard-luck loser in Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat to Texas, yielding two runs with seven strikeouts in seven innings.
"Used his curveball a little bit more. He started to elevate his fastballs for strikeouts," manager John Farrell told MLB’s official website.
The Twins are turning to Ricky Nolasco (4-1, 6.00), who is trying to win five consecutive starts for the first time. The right-hander has won four straight since returning from elbow inflammation that landed him on the disabled list for nearly a month.
Nolasco has benefited from an offense that has supported him with 10.7 runs during his win streak, while he’s posted a 4.29 ERA in that span.
He’s failed to complete six innings in any of his five starts, falling one out short in Tuesday’s 8-5 win at Pittsburgh. Nolasco gave up four runs and set season highs with 10 hits and eight strikeouts.
He’s 2-2 with a 5.08 ERA in five career starts against Boston, particularly struggling against David Ortiz, who is 4 for 10 with three homers in their matchups.
Pablo Sandoval is 10 for 21 with three homers and four doubles versus Nolasco, but he’s nursing a bruised left foot that has kept him out of the lineup for five straight games.