After their zombie-like tour of Southern California last week, the Twins regarded a visit by the Royals to Target Field as a classic "get-well" series.
For everybody but Tyler Mahle, apparently.
Mahle, making just his third start since being acquired at the trade deadline, left Wednesday's game in the third inning with "fatigue" in his pitching shoulder, the Twins announced. But their much-maligned bullpen finished off Minnesota's second straight shutout of Kansas City, and completed a three-game sweep of the Royals, too, with a 4-0 victory.
"It's a sunny afternoon for the bullpen, coming in and getting the job done like that," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "When you get in those situations, it becomes a sort of summer caravan type of situation, just one after the other. You bring them in, you drop them off, and you let them go pitch."
Pitch well, too. After scoring two runs in Monday's first game, the Royals went scoreless in their next 26 turns at bat, the Twins' longest shutout streak of the season. And more than half of that whitewash, 13⅓ innings in all, was contributed by Twins relievers.
"To be able to pick up the team like that is huge, especially when it caps off a sweep," said Emilio Pagan, who took over for Mahle mid-at-bat and held the Royals scoreless for two innings. "That was a lot of fun."
It's been a fun week for the hitters, too. The Royals allowed a Twin to reach base in nearly every inning of the series and score 17 runs in a row over three games, helping to abruptly reverse Minnesota's slide in the AL Central standings.
And perhaps the best part of the Royals' hapless visit: They'll be back at Target Field in mid-September.
Now, will Mahle? That's a huge concern for the Twins, who plan more tests on the righthander's shoulder before deciding whether he'll make his next scheduled start Tuesday at Houston.
"There's always concern," Baldelli said. "There's obviously some attention that's going to be placed on this."
That uncertainty prevented the Twins from fully enjoying an otherwise smooth ride over the slump-ridden Royals, losers of five of their last six games.
Jose Miranda followed a two-out single by Luis Arraez by launching a two-strike fastball from K.C. lefthander Daniel Lynch three rows deep into the left-field bleachers, giving him a dozen homers in his rookie season and the Twins a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
They added another run when Royals second baseman Michael Massey threw a second-inning double-play ball into left field, allowing Gilberto Celestino to score from first base, even though left fielder Brent Rooker had picked up the errant ball by the time Celestino reached third.
"Celly was running full speed, and I just thought it would have been a tough play," said third base coach Tommy Watkins. "Get it quick, throw it on the money — it's never easy, but I thought they wouldn't expect him to score."
"Tommy is magic, isn't he?" Baldelli said. "It was a great instinctual play by our third base coach and our baserunner, too."
Nick Gordon completed the scoring in the fourth inning, doubling home Gary Sanchez.
The Twins so dominated Kansas City pitching this week, it was notable when they were retired 1-2-3 in the fifth and sixth innings — the only two times, in their 24 times at bat during the series, that no Twin reached base.