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Joe Mauer cranked a three-run homer to right-center Saturday, capping a six-run second inning against James Shields.

Photos by BRUCE BISPING • bbisping@startribune.com,

Ricky Nolasco was sharp in his third start after two rough outings to open his Twins career, pitching eight innings Saturday.

Feed Loader,

Twins bats, Nolasco hit stride in 7-1 win over Royals

  • Article by: La VELLE E. NEAL III
  • Star Tribune
  • April 13, 2014 - 8:04 AM

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is about to return to a team that is playing markedly better than when he left it two days ago.

Saturday, the offense showed it can take advantage of a struggling starter. And Ricky Nolasco allayed fears about a possible Vance Worley redux.

And after being beat down by the Royals for most of 2013, the Twins whipped them 7-1 Saturday, giving them victories in the first two games of the three-game series. The Twins won a series against Kansas City for the first time since September 2012, and they won back-to-back games over the Royals for the first time since that series, when they swept a doubleheader Sept. 1.

Gardenhire traveled to Ohio to attend the funeral of Michael Hirschbeck, son of umpire John Hirschbeck, and is expected to return to the bench for the series finale Sunday. Bench coach Terry Steinbach took over for two games and watched the offense score 17 runs and starting pitchers hold the Royals to two earned runs over 14⅓ innings.

The program is still intact. The Twins can move back to .500 with a victory Sunday.

“He’s been only gone for two days,” Steinbach said while chuckling. “I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but we have a great staff.”

Nolasco, the Twins’ four-year, $49 million offseason acquisition, entered Saturday 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in two starts, reminding some of how Worley, last year’s Opening Day starter, fared. Worley went 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA in 10 starts, was sent to the minors in May and now is with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Nolasco put an end to that comparison by holding the Royals to a run and five hits over eight innings. He kept hitters off balance with his arsenal of pitches. He kept Trevor Plouffe busy, as the third baseman had three putouts and four assists.

The Twins didn’t have a starter pitch eight innings last season until April 28, when Kevin Correia did it against Texas. They had three eight-inning outings all year, with Andrew Albers getting the other two. Nolasco served notice Saturday that he could pitch into the ninth inning at least three times this season on his own.

“You never count yourself out no matter how good or bad you are doing,” Nolasco said. “I had two bad starts, but at the same time, my mentality is that I can still do something like today. And if it is the other way around, if I’m rolling at any given time, a team can beat you, so you just have to stay level-headed.”

While Nolasco was in command of Kansas City hitters, the Twins pounded away on righthander James Shields, who won all three of his starts at Target Field last season.

Brian Dozier led off the first inning with a homer, his fourth of the season. Then the Twins scored six runs in the second, when Shields struggled with his control. Aaron Hicks drew a bases-loaded walk for one run, then Mike Moustakas booted Dozier’s grounder, enabling two runs to score.

Joe Mauer batted with runners on second and third and fouled off a 3-1 pitch he should have mashed. Then Shields left a fastball over the plate and Mauer drove it 415 feet into the seats in right-center for a 7-0 lead.

“At the beginning, everyone was lining out on his fastball,” Dozier said. “Then he started going from cutter to changeup, rather than his fastball. You could see the changeup a lot better when he’s not throwing his fastball, not having command and getting off his best pitch.”

Up 7-0, Nolasco cruised and the Twins looked more like the team they envisioned this offseason.

“The players are making it easy when you put the runs on the board like that and pitch like we’re capable of pitching,” Steinbach said. “It keeps us out of the game and makes winning kind of easy.’’

 

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