It was a battle of the bullpens at Target Field on Monday night, and against a team like the Kansas City Royals, that’s a battle the Minnesota Twins should be able to win.

But that wasn’t the case, as starter Aaron Slegers went just 1.1 innings, giving up five earned runs including four in the second inning that more or less decided the game in a 9-4 loss.

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It was the shortest start of his brief MLB career, but wasn’t blown out of the water as Kansas City starter Ian Kennedy left after three innings due to left side tightness.

Kennedy had just been activated off the disabled list in time for Tuesday’s start with a left oblique strain, and is expected to have an MRI on Wednesday to see what the extent of the flare-up is.

But back to the bullpens for a second.

Even though the Twins needed 23 outs from their bullpen and the Royals needed 18, the advantage still should have been squarely on Minnesota’s shoulders. While the Twins haven’t gotten much production out of their bullpen this year (4.40 ERA), that’s still head and shoulders better than the Royals (5.35), who came into Tuesday’s game dead last in reliever ERA.

But as you know by now, it didn’t go well.

Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:

Win probability table


Source: FanGraphs

Slegers didn’t hang around long….

The tall righty recorded just four outs — the fewest by any Twins starter all season long. Along the way, he didn’t fan or walk a batter and got just one swinging strike on the 41 pitches he threw.

That was the most problematic — everything he threw was rather hittable. Slegers scarcely broke 90 mph with any of his pitches, and when he was forced to stay in the zone, the Royals punished him with seven hits. Three batted balls against Slegers came out at exit velocities in excess of 100 mph, and another two were 98 mph or higher.

“Early some pitches caught a lot of the plate,” the right-hander said. “Then some things just went a little differently. Some balls found the hole and, you know, nothing I can point to right away. I wasn’t playing as sharply and they capitalized.”

The one pitch that really wrecked Slegers’ night was the ball Adalberto Mondesi roped out for a three-run homer.

“His ability to command that fastball, it seemed like a lot of them got back over the middle rather than getting where he wanted to,” manager Paul Molitor said. “They kept swinging and kept finding the barrels.”

Slegers said he wasn’t even sure the pitch to Mondesi was a strike — he hadn’t looked yet — but the evidence appears to suggest that it was, in fact, out of the zone.

“Yeah, exactly,” Slegers said when asked if he was trying to elevate for a swing and miss. “I threw him back-to-back sliders then was tempted to elevate there. I don’t think it was a strike. I didn’t see the video or K-Zone or anything or anything.”
(image credit: Baseball Savant)

The ball Mondesi golfed out to right was the green one — a four-seam fastball that came in at 89.5 mph and left at 103.1 mph.

Molitor said the Twins weren’t going to make a move Tuesday night — Triple-A Rochester is on their All-Star break, for what it’s worth — but that there might be something in the works for Wednesday. Nevertheless, he did not commit to Slegers making his next scheduled start, which would fall on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays in the first-half finale.

Jul 10, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Aaron Slegers (50) throws to the Kansas City Royals in the first inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

….neither did Kennedy, really

The Twins did not respond in kind to Kennedy’s return from the disabled list, forcing the veteran righty to throw nearly 70 pitches in just three innings before he hit the showers for the night. Television cameras captured Kennedy with his face in his hands between innings, all but suggesting that he was battling some type of issue that prevented him from taking the mound in the fourth inning.

Nevertheless, after throwing just 13 pitches in the first inning, Kennedy was forced to throw 27 in each of his final two innings as the Twins really made him work. Five of the righty’s six swinging strikes on the night came on his four-seam fastball, with just one on the slider in an otherwise iffy performance.

He wouldn’t have been long for the game one way or the other coming off the disabled list with this poor of a pitch economy, but now he’s certainly not going to throw again until after the All-Star break, and might end up back on the shelf for a Royals team desperately seeking some stability in the rotation.

They didn’t find it on Tuesday, and aren’t likely to on Wednesday with reliever Burch Smith taking the ball to start the game. Smith hasn’t started a game for the Royals this year, and all seven of his MLB starts came back in 2013 with the San Diego Padres.

For a second it looked like the Twins bullpen might steal the show…

Rogers was absolutely brilliant out of the Twins bullpen, as he got seven straight outs — a double play and five more outs afterward — before Matt Magill took over for him in the fourth inning following a walk to Mondesi.

“I talked to him once he came off the field, asked him when’s the last time he was in a game in the second inning,” Molitor said of Rogers. “He couldn’t remember except when he started. Looking at the innings that I had, where we were, I knew that he was fresh and could probably give me close to two innings, if not a tad more. I thought that was the best way to shut it down, try to keep it there until I turned it over to Magill.”

Magill got six of the first seven batters out that he faced until Alex Gordon walked and moved to second on an Alcides Escobar infield single off Eduardo Escobar’s glove at third. After Mondesi singled home Gordon, that was it for Magill as Matt Beslile came in with the Twins trailing, 6-2.

But still, between Rogers, Magill, Matt Beslile and Zach Duke, the quartet combined for 6.2 innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts and five hits allowed.

However, then came Addison Reed, who gave up an RBI triple to Hunter Dozier and a two-run homer to Gordon one pitch later to turn the game into a laugher, 9-2.

…but instead, it was Royals long man Brian Flynn who did so

One unique thing that some teams are able to do is throw a long reliever who is opposite-handed compared to the pitcher who started the game. Both teams did this, with Taylor Rogers taking over for Slegers and Flynn taking over for Kennedy. 

What that can do is throw a wrench into lineup construction rather early in the game, as most managers will structure their order just a little differently — or perhaps a lot differently — based on the handedness of the opposing starting pitcher.

“I wasn’t sure how long they were going to let him go,” Molitor said of Flynn. “Sometimes you can think about (using long reliever handedness to your advantage), especially with what Tampa’s doing, it makes you think about it a little bit. More times than not, if I think a guy’s going to go 65 or 70 pitches, we’re going try to put our lineup out there to score early if we can.”

Flynn came in and completely doused any flames the Twins might have had, tossing four innings of shutout ball with three strikeouts, two walks and just one hit allowed to lower his season ERA to 3.71. Flynn isn’t extremely overpowering — sitting 91-93 mph with his fastball while mixing in a mid-80s slider — but he got the job done with six of the nine balls in play turned into outs coming on the ground.

Jul 10, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Brian Flynn (33) throws to the Minnesota Twins in the sixth inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals offense broke a dubious streak

Kansas City hadn’t scored more than five runs in any game since a June 4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels — a span of 30 games. The win also snapped a 10-game losing streak, as the Royals had three of baseball’s five longest losing skids this season.

These losses hurt the Twins immensely, even with the Cleveland Indians blowing a 4-0 lead in the ninth inning on the way to a 7-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

The Twins had no answer for *squints* Adalberto Mondesi?

Mondesi — the offspring of former MLB right fielder Raul — came into the game a career .188/.226/.286 hitter in 89 big-league games, including a line of just .211/.224/.333 in 17 games with the Royals this season.

But he had all the answers on Tuesday night, stroking a homer and a single while delivering four RBIs, one run scored and even drawing a walk. Not only that, but Mondesi also started a slick double play in the seventh inning after Mitch Garver walked and Robbie Grossman pinch-hit for Jake Cave.

The physical tools are immense for the pint-sized Mondesi, but he hasn’t put it all together much in the big leagues. Tuesday night was one of those rare occasions.

Jul 10, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (4) celebrates with shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (27) his two run homer against the Minnesota Twins in the ninth inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

As part of the “Will You Accept this Rosie” All-Star campaign, the Twins had Becca Kufrin from The Bachelorette throw out a ceremonial first pitch

I don’t know anything about The Bachelor/ette series, but I hear this was a big deal.

To Kufrin’s credit, Rosario said after the game that she threw a strike. He’s enjoying all the hubbub around his potential selection to the All-Star Game, though he seems to be taking it all in stride.

“I think it’s good,” he said. “I like it. I appreciate the guys trying to help me go to the All-Star Game. Even the little stuff. The other guys have more votes, but I want to try get everyone to help me get to the All-Star Game.”

Jul 10, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Actress from the TV show The Bachelorette Becca Kufrin celebrates after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch with Minnesota Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario (20) who brought her a rose before the game against the Kansas City Royals at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Notes

  • Nine Twins batters had a single hit apiece, but none had more than one. Every Royals starter had at least one hit.
  • Twins center fielder Jake Cave and right fielder Max Kepler extended their hitting streaks to six games.
  • Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield extended his hitting streak to 12 games.
  • The Royals have just four wins in their last 26 games.

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