KANSAS CITY, MO. – The Twins chugged into Friday with the best team on-base percentage in baseball, the second-most runs scored and — gasp — were one game over .500. These were early signs that they might not be the disaster they were last season,
But momentum can be slowed by a hot pitcher … and stingy defense. And the Twins were put in their place by Jason Vargas and friends in a 5-0 loss at Kauffman Stadium.
Vargas was strong for seven innings. Alex Gordon showed why he can’t be messed with in left field.
And the Twins, who swept three games from the Royals at Target Field last week, dropped the first game of their series here.
Vargas threw seven shutout innings, allowing seven hits, with one walk and four strikeouts. He did not get a decision on Sunday at Target Field, after giving up two runs over seven innings. Twins hitters, therefore, were very familiar with him, but it comes down to executing a game plan.
He threw fastballs early, struggling with his command at times. But he began mixing in his changeup and helped hand the Twins their first shutout of the season. Only two Twins batters reached second base on Vargas’ watch.
“He’s got a good plan and sticks to it,’’ Twins outfielder Chris Colabello said. “It seems like every time we get runners on against him, he finds a way to get out of it. He’s obviously a pitcher; he thinks things through. He kept us off balance for a lot of the game.’’
Royals defense was a constant presence. They turned a nifty double play in the third to stop a threat before it started. Gordon, firing from just in front of the left field wall, threw out Josmil Pinto in the fourth as he tried to stretch a single into a double.
Then Gordon, whose 57 assists are the most in baseball since he became an outfielder in 2011, crashed into the wall while catching Joe Mauer’s foul ball in the sixth.
When asked what worked for him on Friday, Vargas said, “Defense.’’
Twins righthander Ricky Nolasco, who beat the Royals at Target Field last week for his first win as a Twin, wasn’t as sharp this time.
He got in trouble in the third when Alcides Escobar doubled down the left field line. Nori Aoki followed with a grounder to deep third that Trevor Plouffe had to eat because he had no time to throw.
With runners on first and third, Omar Infante sent a dribbler between third and home. Nolasco fielded the ball and tried to throw Escobar out at home, but Escobar slid in safely. Eric Hosmer, the next batter, added an RBI single as Kansas City took a 2-0 lead. Infante’s RBI single in the fifth made it 3-0.
Nolasco cruised through eight innings on April 12, and had a chance for a quality start if he could get through the Royals’ sixth inning without giving up a run. But Mike Moustakas hit a tasty 3-2 slider for a two-run homer.
Nolasco planned on catching up with Vargas before the series ended. Nolasco, from Rialto (Calif.) High, used to face Vargas, who pitched at Apple Valley (Calif.) High.
And the two played on traveling teams together. It’s unclear if details from Friday’s game will be discussed.
“He did a good job,’’ Nolasco said of Vargas. “He’s throwing the ball well. I’m happy for him.’’