Twins sweep last-place Royals with 4-0 win
Minnesota has won three straight games for the first time since June 25-27
MINNEAPOLIS — Whatever was ailing the Twins during their 1-4 road trip through Southern California was readily cured by a three-game series with the last-place Kansas City Royals.
With eight rookies among the 13 position players on its active roster — seven of them first-year players — Kansas City is firmly in rebuild mode after sending its best hitter, Andrew Benintendi, to the New York Yankees and veteran infielder Whit Merrifield to Toronto at the Aug. 2 trade deadline.
The Royals entered the series having won nine of their past 15 games but were little match for a Minnesota team trying to regain its American League Central lead, swept with a 4-0 Twins victory on Wednesday in front of an announced crowd of 23,543 at Target Field.
Minnesota (61-55) improved to 9-4 against its division rival and pulled within a half game of Cleveland (62-55) pending the Guardians’ 6:10 first pitch against Detroit. The Twins have won three in a row for the first time since June 25-27 and outscored Kansas City, 17-2, in this week’s three games.
The bad news is that Twins starting pitcher Tyler Mahle left the game with a 3-0 lead in the third inning with what the team is calling “right shoulder fatigue.” He had No. 9 hitter Maikel Garcia down 1-2 and had induced a second straight foul ball with an 88.9 mph four seamer when manager Rocco Baldelli and head trainer Michael Salazar went to get him.
Acquired from Cincinnati at the deadline, Mahle was 1-0 with a 3.00 earned-run average in two Twins starts prior to Wednesday. But the Twins got a monster game from their bullpen with six pitchers combining to throw 6⅔ scoreless innings.
“We’ve got a super-talented group, and to be able to pick up the team like that is huge, especially when it caps off a sweep,” said Emilio Pagan (4-6), who relieved Mahle and pitched two scoreless innings to earn his first win since July 4.
Jose Miranda gave the Twins a 2-0 lead with a two-out, two-run home run off Royals starter Daniel Lynch (4-8) in the first inning, and Gilberto Celestino scored on a fielder’s choice and throwing error to make it 3-0 in the second.
Left fielder Brent Rooker, the 35th overall pick by the Twins in the 2017 draft, scooped up the errant throw from second baseman Michael Massey and had a shot to get Celestino, who was barreling around third at the behest of third-base coach Tommy Watkins.
“I looked at (Watkins) because I was not sure if he was going to send me,” Celestino said through interpreter Elvis Martinez. “But right when I stepped on the base and he sent me, I just kept going.”
Nick Gordon drove in Gary Sanchez with a two-out double in the fourth inning to make it 4-0. By that time, Pagan had relieved Mahle. The right-hander gave up three hits but kept the Royals scoreless to start the bullpen moving in the right direction.
“Momentum’s real in every aspect of the game — offensively, defensively, starting pitching, bullpen work,” Pagan said. “People don’t want to be the guy that kind of messes up the chain.”
Pagan (2 innings), Griffin Jax (1⅔), Jhoan Duran (1), Michael Fulmer (1) and Trevor Megill (1) held the Royals to four hits and one walk and struck out five over the last 6⅔ innings.
“It’s a sunny afternoon for the bullpen, coming in and getting the job done like that,” Baldelli said. “When you get in those situations, it becomes a sort of Summer Caravan type of situation, it’s just one after the other. You bring them in, you drop them off and let them go and pitch. … They did. And they did it thoroughly, and they did it until the very end.”
The Twins are off Thursday, then start a wrap-around, four-game series against the Texas Rangers on Friday night at Target Field.
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