So it is with rookies. Five days after the best start of Aaron Slegers’ short career, he delivered the worst.
The Twins’ 6-10 righthander faced 11 Kansas City batters Tuesday, watched seven of them smack hits and five of them score, putting the Twins in an early hole that spelled the end of their five-game winning streak. Adalberto Mondesi hit a three-run homer and the Twins never recovered, plodding their way to a 9-4 loss at Target Field.
“Some pitches caught a lot of the plate. Some balls found the hole,” Slegers said, seemingly wondering himself how things could reverse themselves so quickly. “[It’s] nothing I can point to right away. I wasn’t pitching as sharply, and they capitalized.”
It was the Twins’ first defeat since last Wednesday in Milwaukee, and their first loss at home since June 24. But more notable: It was a rare Royals’ victory, their first in July. Kansas City had lost 10 consecutive games, its longest skid in six seasons, and had dropped 22 of its past 25 to fall an astonishing 40 games below .500.
All of which made Slegers’ rough start even more discouraging — for the Twins, and for FS1, the national network that willingly chose to televise this 3½-hour snoozer. He might even have fumbled away his chance to remain in Minneapolis; Twins manager Paul Molitor said no decision has been made yet about whether Slegers will start Sunday against Tampa Bay.
The 25-year-old former 2013 fifth-round pick had seized the chance to impress the Twins last week against Baltimore, kicking off the Twins’ winning streak by holding the Orioles to only three hits over six innings, and needing a mere 72 pitches to do it. Slegers lasted only 41 pitches this time, and a big percentage of them were belted around the diamond.
“That fastball, it seemed like a lot of them got back over the middle rather than getting where he wanted them,” Molitor said. “It probably wasn’t coming out quite as good as it seemed the other day — the velo[city] was down just a little bit. But mostly, it’s where you’re putting it. You don’t have to pitch at a high velocity to be effective as long as you get it where you need to, and I don’t think that was happening.”
Against Baltimore, Slegers didn’t allow his second hit until the fifth inning. Against Kansas City, he allowed his second hit to the fourth batter. That was Salvador Perez, who took three consecutive balls, then lined a 3-2 sinker to left field, bringing home Whit Merrifield.
The second inning was a quagmire right from the start, and Slegers wound up facing six hitters, with five of them getting hits. Mondesi, a light-hitting infielder, had the biggest one, swinging at a high fastball on a 2-2 count that was out of the strike zone — but not far enough out.
“Hats off to him, he got [his bat] there,” Slegers said. “I threw him back-to-back sliders, then was tempted to elevate there. I don’t think it was a strike.”
Nope, it was a 400-foot homer, landing on the right-field plaza, staking the Royals to a 4-1 lead that the Twins could never dent.
“You’re hoping to go through multiple [Royals relievers] and inch away. Didn’t happen,” Molitor said. “You think once you get into the bullpen and you’re within three, you’re going to find a way to put up some kind of a number along the way to make it a game. But we were never in it.”