The first game did not go according to plan. The original idea was to allow Ian Kennedy to open and then to have Jakob Junis act as bulk man. Unfortunately, when Junis went to warm up he developed tightness in his lower back and was ruled out of the game. So the Royals had their third bullpen game of this young season. They didn’t win either of the first two and they weren’t going to win this one either.
The key inning for the first half of the day was the third. Kennedy and Twins starter Jake Odorizzi had matched scoreless innings and the Royals were forced to go to Gabe Speier. Speier got two outs and allowed Jorge Polanco to reach with a hit so he was replaced with right-hander Tyler Zuber to face ageless power threat Nelson Cruz. He left a 2-1 pitch down the middle and Cruz destroyed it off the fourth deck in left field to give the Twins a pair of runs and a lead they would not relinquish for the rest of the early afternoon.
Zuber gave up another run before his day was done and I think it’s about time to ask why he keeps getting high leverage innings. Greg Holland was on the mound when Zuber’s second run scored and gave up one of his own. Both were asked to start a fresh inning after coming into the middle of one. This is your reminder that Kyle Zimmer now hasn’t pitched in a week. Maybe somebody should ask Andy McCullough about him.
On the offensive side, Ryan McBroom hit a replay double and Maikel Franco ripped a hanging curve ball into the left field bleachers to provide the only scoring for the Royals in the fifth inning. The strike zone was unusually large and the Royals watched at a lot of called strikes which put them in bad counts even when they didn’t finish at-bats entirely.
Both Danny Duffy and José Berríos started off the second game very shakily. Berríos loaded the bases including a couple of walks in a suddenly much smaller strike zone but escaped without giving up any runs. Duffy endured a catching error by Ryan O’Hearn at first on a low throw from Adalberto Mondesi and then a single. Next thing Duffy knew he had to throw a 3-1 pitch to Nelson Cruz with two men on. He somehow escaped that at-bat without giving up a run and then the inning while only giving up one.
The Royals tied it up in the second when Whit Merrifield singled home Nicky Lopez. Then, in the fourth, the large number of pitches Berríos had thrown caught up to him. He walked Nicky Lopez and Cam Gallagher around a fielder’s choice for Adalberto Mondesi. Up came Merrifield again, and Merrifield made Berríos pay again.
Duffy, in complete contrast, got better and better as the game went on. He gave up a solo home run to Nelson Cruz in the fourth inning - a ridiculous blast into center field that would seem impossible if I hadn’t seen it myself - but that was the only damage that was the only hit he gave up after the first inning. He walked only one and struck out eight, including three in the fifth inning - his final inning pitched.
If you’re looking for reasons to worry, the Royals had a total of four batters come to the plate in the sixth inning and got three hits. Nicky Lopez tried to turn a single into a double against Byron Buxton’s speed and arm and predictably failed. Adalberto Mondesi tried to steal third and was picked off because he left too early. We’ve seen overly aggressive baserunning before and it’s never fun. Hopefully they get it back under control before tomorrow’s game.
No reasons to worry from the bullpen in the second game, though. Josh Staumont and Trevor Rosenthal both “had it” tonight. Both were hitting 100 and nailing their spots. Staumont struck out two and Rosenthal struck out three.
Mike Matheny earned career win number 600, today. The Royals have now won four of five against the division-leading Twins. They are also only two games back of a playoff spot. They have a chance to win the series, tomorrow when Brady Singer matches up with Randy Dobnak who sports a very ‘70s mustache to go with his ‘70s name despite being only 25 and a rookie.