It’s the Twins’ main objective over their final 40 games, their reason for playing, their mantra: progress.
Not much of a consolation prize, is it?
Trevor May lost his second career start Monday night, didn’t quite last five innings and was undone yet again by his own wildness. But the Twins tried their best to feel positive about their 6-4 loss to Kansas City at Target Field, about their third loss in four days, about failing to post a quality start for the ninth time this month. Because they — or specifically May — made progress.
“I see a definite upward trend on how things are going,” May said, though that’s as opposed to his team, which fell a season-worst 13 games below .500 once more. But there is no sign that the Twins’ faith is wavering, either, particularly after May retired eight of nine batters at one point.
“I believe so,” bench coach Terry Steinbach, who took over when manager Ron Gardenhire was ejected in the first inning, said about the Twins remaining committed to May, whose first two career starts have come against first-place teams (and who gets the Tigers next). “There were enough positives, I feel, in what we saw tonight. He made it through the order, he was executing pitches, he kept the Royals’ hitters off-balance, for the most part.”
May was spectacularly successful in Class AAA Rochester this year, and the Twins believe he will be a part of a winner someday. So while he was finally undone Monday by his inability to summon a critical strike on command, while he walked the bases loaded in the fifth inning and then gave up a couple of base hits to drive all three runs home, the Twins can focus on the four shutout innings that preceded that.
In his debut in Oakland, “he was really erratic. I’ve never seen him like that before, actually,” catcher Eric Fryer said. “Tonight was definitely vintage Trevor. ... This time, it was just a little bit off the corners. For the most part, I think he was solid.”
Well, that’s relative. Royals starter Jason Vargas might have embodied that adjective a little more completely, suffocating the Twins on four hits over seven innings. Vargas (10-5), whose streak of 17 consecutive shutout innings ended when Oswaldo Arcia blasted a changeup off the American flagpole on the right-field plaza in the seventh inning, gave up three harmless singles the rest of the time.
But if the objective is simply improvement — an admittedly patient standard — May demonstrated plenty of reason for optimism. He gave up three hits and a walk to the first seven batters he faced, but he struck out Alex Gordon to get out of trouble in the first inning, then got Alcides Escobar to hit into a double play to end the second. And the 24-year-old righthander seemed to settle down in the third and fourth innings.
“Definitely less” nervousness, May said. “I felt more comfortable. There definitely was some jitters, [so] it was good to get out of the first inning without any damage.”
But May’s recurring problem with commanding his fastball, which the Twins have blamed on that nervousness about pitching at this level, returned in the fifth. After May (0-2) issued three walks, Salvador Perez and Billy Butler each lined first-pitch singles to put Kansas City up 3-0. One more single by Gordon and May was done for the night, 4⅔ innings and 85 pitches in.
“[May] got some bad luck there — Perez drops it in there off the end of the bat,” Fryer said. “He was making good pitches.”
At this point, the Twins will take it.