Solid all-around effort pushes Twins past Royals
MINNEAPOLIS — After adding Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes in the offseason, the Twins expected their rotation to be better.
Instead, the offense has been the biggest turnaround for Minnesota.
Joe Mauer hit his first home run of the season, Brian Dozier connected for his fourth and Nolasco earned his initial win with the Twins in a 7-1 victory Saturday over the Kansas City Royals.
"I feel like, one through nine, everybody today had at least three hard-hit balls each, and that’s a tell-tale sign an offense is clicking," said Dozier, who tied for the AL lead in homers. "Been doing that for the past week now, so everything is starting to click as a team right now."
A day after getting his first RBI of the year, Mauer hit a three-run shot against starter James Shields (0-2). Dozier had a leadoff homer for Minnesota, which has scored the second-most runs in the American League.
Nolasco (1-1) showed why the Twins signed him to a $49 million, four-year contract to steady their rotation.
The right-hander gave up five runs in each of his first two outings for his new team, but was on top of his game Saturday in his first home start for Minnesota. Nolasco went eight innings and allowed five hits with four strikeouts.
"I wish I could say I’m going to go eight every time," Nolasco said. "This level is very difficult and you can never count yourself out no matter how good or bad you’re doing. I had two bad starts, but my mentality is still like I could do something like today."
While the rotation was addressed in the offseason, it was Minnesota’s lineup that figured to keep the Twins near the bottom of the AL Central again. Instead, Dozier has been a power source in the leadoff spot, and Minnesota has received big production from a middle of the order that includes Trevor Plouffe, Chris Colabello and Jason Kubel.
Making the transition full-time to first base this season, Mauer was slow to come around with the bat. Kansas City’s first trip to Minnesota was the perfect remedy, though. In his career, Mauer has hit .338 against the Royals with 11 homers and 95 RBIs. He’s also hit .350 (12 for 37) against Shields.
"When it’s all said and done his numbers are going to be there," acting Twins manager Terry Steinbach said. "He’s a professional hitter, a great hitter, and just over the course of time it’s going to happen. It was good to see him connect with one and get that ball out of the ballpark."
Shields put Kansas City in an early hole again. The Royals had seven quality starts in their first eight games, but Bruce Chen allowed two first-inning runs Friday night and only went 3 2-3 innings. Shields gave up a home run to Dozier on his fourth pitch and Minnesota added six runs in the second.
Shields was undone by the defense, including his own.
None of the runs in the second were earned because Shields misplayed a sacrifice bunt by Kurt Suzuki, with the ball slipping out of his hand for an error as the pitcher tried to throw to third base. Shields then walked No. 8 hitter Aaron Hicks with the bases loaded. Later, third baseman Mike Moustakas couldn’t handle a hard-hit grounder by Dozier that deflected into left field for an error, allowing two runs to score.
Mauer followed Moustakas’ error with a three-run homer, his first since Aug. 16 last season.
"Even though it was a 3-2 count, I was trying to go changeup down and away," Shields said. "He’s a pretty good hitter. He’s going to hit that every time."
Shields yielded seven runs — one earned — in 5 2-3 innings. He gave up six hits and walked three while striking out five.
NOTES: Steinbach filled in for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire the past two games while Gardenhire attended the funeral for Michael Hirschbeck in Ohio. Hirschbeck, the son of umpire John Hirschbeck, died Tuesday at age 27. Gardenhire is expected back for Sunday’s game. … Kansas City recalled LHP Danny Duffy from Triple-A Omaha to pitch out of the bullpen. Duffy, who was in the mix for a rotation spot this spring, is the only healthy left-hander in the bullpen. The Royals optioned 2B Johnny Giavotella to Omaha. … Minnesota put LF Josh Willingham on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised left wrist. Willingham was set to have an MRI later Saturday. The move was made retroactive to Monday, and the team hopes he’ll be ready to return when eligible. The Twins recalled RHP Michael Tonkin from Triple-A Rochester. … Minnesota assistant general manager Rob Antony said SS Jason Bartlett will travel to Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday to begin rehabilitating a left ankle injury. Bartlett was placed on the disabled list Monday. … Twins RHP Kevin Correia (0-1, 6.17 ERA) pitches Sunday against LHP Jason Vargas (1-0, 1.20).