The strategy against Royals ace and reigning AL Cy Young Zach Greinke has to be to get him out of the game as early as possible, especially since the Royals' bullpen other than Joakim Soria is highly combustible. The Twins set the right tone from the outset, with Denard Span and Orlando Hudson each drawing 6-pitch walks to lead off the game. No runs in the 1st, but everyone stuck to the plan, and Greinke eventually allowed 4 R (2 ER) before being ground out of the ballgame after throwing 108 pitches in just 5 innings. 4 IP from the non-Soria members of the bullpen were a sure-fire recipe for piling on, and for the 2nd straight game the Twins scored 8 or more runs despite getting 0 H from Joe Mauer.
Scott Baker continued to show that his opening day performance was just nerves. He was wonderfully efficient, coming out after 7 IP with only 92 pitches thrown. He walked 0 and struck out 6. Matt Guerrier continues to have scoreless innings despite never missing bats.
Twins 6, Royals 5
It looked like it was going to be more of the same on Saturday after the Twins broke through for 5 R off Gil Meche in the 3rd inning. He managed to hang around through 6 IP, though. Good enough for the Twins, as the Royals middle-relief surrendered the game-winning HR to Hudson, the very first batter they faced. Except for Jason Kubel, everyone in the lineup reached base at least once, and there were only 2 K to go along with 5 BB.
Nick Blackburn isn't quite himself yet, apparently because of some elbow soreness which will delay his next start. It's not out of the ordinary to see him allow 7 H in 5 IP, but when he's on, 5 of those will be singles. In this game, he allowed 3 2B and 2 HR. Normally, he does a pretty good job of keeping the ball in the yard, so he's certainly yet to put his best foot forward.
As for the bullpen, suddenly depleted with nagging injuries to Jose Mijares and Pat Neshek, Brian Duensing and Guerrier took the mound for the second straight game and pitched 3 scoreless innings to set up Jon Rauch, who allowed two to reach but preserved the 1-run lead for his 6th save in 6 chances.
Twins 5, Royals 10
Sweeps are nice, but not necessary, especially when you start the season with 4 straight series wins. Carl Pavano finally had a poor start, though if he gives the Twins 2 good ones for every bad I think we'll all take it. Alex Burnett turned right around from his demotion to Rochester earlier this week and threw 2.2 scoreless IP with 4 K. Ron Mahay added 2 IP with 3 K. But Jesse Crain, for the 2nd time on this home stand, came one pitch short of a scoreless inning, instead allowing Alberto Callaspo's 2nd 3-run HR of the day to ice the game.
It was heartening to see the relentlessness of the lineup in the face of an early 4-run deficit. The lineup ground out another 8 BB, bringing the tying run into scoring position a couple of times in the late innings and forcing the Royals to bring in Soria to put out an 8th-inning fire. Even in defeat, the Twins scored 5, and were just one big hit away from changing the game.
- In each of the Twins' 4 losses so far, they've been within striking distance in the 8th inning: trailing 4-3 in the opener, tied at 4 in the finale in Chicago, and trailing 3-2 in their loss to the Red Sox. No games you want to turn off after a few innings so far.
- Burnett is replacing Mijares, who had to go on the 15-day DL.
- The Beloit Snappers have won 4 in a row, 3 by shutout.
- Spencer Steedley, one of the AFL prospects from last year, has allowed just 3 H and 1 BB in his first 9 IP with 13 K. Even more impressively, he's wiped out righties about as well as lefties, something he didn't come close to doing last year. He pitched decently in 18.2 IP with the Rock Cats last year, so if he can keep this up for another 10 appearances of so, he could be looking at a promotion to Rochester for his 25th birthday on May 31st. Left-handed middle relief was one of the weaknesses for the Twins at the upper levels of their system, so Steedley's development would be most welcome, particularly with Mijares ailing and the Twins having to rely on the ancient Mahay.