KANSAS CITY, MO. – Not many teams can go tape-measure-for-tape-measure with the Twins, but then again, only one has a rocket launcher named Jorge Soler.
The Cuban slugger detonated again Saturday, belting a 440-blast early in the game and then topping it with a 448-foot eruption an inning later, two of the four homers that the last-place Royals used to power another victory over the Twins, 9-6 in Kauffman Stadium.
It’s the third consecutive loss for the first-place Twins and, as they reach the one-quarter mark of the brief 2020 season, the first time they have lost a series.
Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler and, for the third day in a row, Byron Buxton all homered for the Twins, but they were outbashed by Soler, Nicky Lopez and Salvador Perez. But perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Twins’ first back-to-back losses to the Royals since 2018 was the jittery debut by All-Star Jake Odorizzi.
“Just a little rusty,” Odorizzi said. “I kind of expected to be a little bit.”
The righthander returned to a depleted rotation, his sore back healed and his arm strong enough for 75 pitches, manager Rocco Baldelli figured. That was supposed to cover more than three innings, but Odorizzi’s command was haywire from the first batter: With his eighth pitch of the at-bat, Odorizzi plunked Whit Merrifield.
Odorizzi gave up only one run that inning but loaded the bases and threw 29 pitches. After a relatively quiet second inning, he surrendered a home run off the museum above the Twins bullpen to Soler, the 2019 AL home run champ who tagged the Twins six times last year. Another 400-foot fly ball was snagged by Buxton, with his trademark hold-your-breath crash into the center field wall, and by the end of the inning, Odorizzi had reached 71 pitches, forcing Baldelli to go to the bullpen much earlier than he wanted.
“He had to work really hard to get through those three innings,” Baldelli said of Odorizzi. “I don’t think he was really comfortable at any point in the start. It was hot, I think he had a tough time gripping the ball, too. That was definitely a factor with the split as much as anything else.”
Said Odorizzi: “Physically, I felt perfectly fine, that’s what I take away from today — no issues, no residual pain or tightness. Just had a tough time getting my grip.
“My hands were sweaty, which affects my splitter a lot. My big issue today was not having a good feel for it, it was a little floaty and to the side, as opposed to having good action. Obviously, it’s one of my go-to pitches.”
The Twins rallied for four runs to take a temporary lead, with Cruz slugging his fourth homer of the season, and Buxton his third, a three-run shot that proved he survived the wall collision.
“Buck came out of that wall collision really good. The way he approached that ball is something he’s been spending some time on. Trying to attack the ball, and also hitting the wall with his back, taking the brunt of it as opposed to running straight ahead and leaping off one foot into the wall,,” Baldelli said ofBuxton's catch.
When the top of the fourth inning ended, lefthander Lewis Thorpe jogged in to try to protect that 4-2 lead.
It lasted only five pitches. Maikel Franco lined Thorpe’s third pitch into left field for a single. Two pitches later, Lopez drilled a slider over the right field wall, and the game was suddenly tied. And when Brett Phillips bunted the next pitch and beat it out for a hit, Thorpe’s day was over after only pitches.
Cody Stashak didn’t have any better luck. Merrifield greeted him with a single, Soler unleashed a mammoth home run 30 feet beyond the center field wall, and Perez followed with a shot of his own, completing Kansas City’s six-run inning.