Ricky Nolasco had the opportunity to reintroduce himself to Twins fans Friday night. Not as the struggling righthander with an ERA over 5.00, but as the newcomer who was expected to set a different tone for the starting rotation after three disastrous seasons.
But there wasn’t much of a new improved version, yet. The Twins lost 6-5 to Kansas City at Target Field, and the Royals did most of their damage during a five-run fourth against Nolasco on the way to winning for the 19th time in 23 games. They also took a 1½-game lead over Detroit in the AL Central. The Twins did keep fans interested by scoring twice off closer Greg Holland in the ninth.
It was Nolasco’s first start since July 6 because of an elbow injury, and he saw his ERA rise to 5.99 after giving up five runs and seven hits over six innings, with one walk and three strikeouts. That is not the line of a pitcher the Twins thought they bought when they signed him to a four-year, $49 million contract during the offseason — the richest free-agent contract in their history.
Nolasco maintains that guy is coming. He traced the downfall of his evening to a hanging breaking ball to former teammate Josh Willingham in the fourth that turned into a bases-clearing double.
“That one pitch was crucial, in a crucial situation,” Nolasco said. “I just have to continue to do what I’ve been doing with the trainers from here on out and try to finish the season strong.”
Nolasco got through six innings. His stuff, at times, looked a little better than it did before he was injured. But Nolasco’s night was defined by that fourth inning.
Moments after the Twins scored the first two runs of the game against Royals lefthander Danny Duffy, Kansas City responded.
Salvador Perez opened the fourth with a double into the right field corner. Billy Butler singled to right and Alex Gordon was hit with a pitch. Nolasco was all over the place with his control and his curveball slurved to the plate a couple times.
Willingham followed with a first-pitch double into the left-field corner that outfielder Jordan Schafer had some trouble digging out. Catcher Kurt Suzuki set up for a pitch on the outside corner but Nolasco threw the pitch over the middle of the plate.
Mike Moustakas singled, then Alcides Escobar hit a two-run triple to center — on a ball outfielder Danny Santana took a bad angle on — to give the Royals a 5-2 lead. Again, Suzuki set up outside, but Nolasco left a sinker over the middle of the plate that was bashed.
“I was trying to get a ground ball and he stayed inside it,” Nolasco said.
There’s no doubt that a couple plays in the field might have cost Nolasco a couple of runs. But he threw bad pitches at the wrong times.
What Nolasco can embrace is that, after Escobar’s triple, he retired the last nine batters he faced. His curveball regained some of its bite, but his command was still a little shaky. The Twins are hoping he can build off those innings and try to salvage the rest of his first season with the Twins.
“We need to get results out of him,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We need to see him get stronger and more consistent and giving us a chance. It’s been a rough one to this point with some health problems.”