KANSAS CITY -- Devin Smeltzer left Kauffman Stadium with a flourish.
With Bailey Ober waiting to be activated for a Sunday start against the Royals, the numbers game dictated that Smeltzer was bound for Triple-A St. Paul following his outing Friday night. The stylish left-hander made the most of his opportunity by delivering 5 1/3 solid innings in the Twins’ 6-4 win in the series opener.
The Twins got two impressive starts from Smeltzer while the starting rotation temporarily was plagued by injury and illness. After going five innings and allowing just three hits and one run against Cleveland on May 14, Smeltzer came right back to hold Kansas City to one run on five hits before turning things over to the bullpen.
For a guy who missed most of the 2021 season because of left elbow inflammation, his first Major League win of the season was something special.
“Every day here is a blessing,” Smeltzer said. “With everything I’ve been through … last year was just a bump I had to get over.”
Immediately after the game, Smeltzer got the news from manager Rocco Baldelli that he would be returning to St. Paul.
“Not an easy one at all,” Baldelli said. “With the way [Smeltzer] is pitching, in a lot of ways, he deserves to be here. So, very challenging. But I expect to see him back here soon.”
Baldelli said Ober is lined up to start on Sunday. And the Twins want Smeltzer to stay in a starter’s mode at Triple-A rather than move to a bullpen role with the Major League club.
Certainly, the Twins can take comfort in the knowledge that they have starting pitching depth in their organization. Injuries or illness can happen again, and the Twins feel they are ready to deal with it.
The Royals got a run off Smeltzer in the first, thanks largely to soft grounders by Whit Merrifield and Andrew Benintendi that found holes.
“I stuck with the game plan,” Smeltzer said. “They found gloves as the game wore on.”
Indeed, they did. Smeltzer recorded 16 outs without a strikeout. He joined Royals veteran Zack Greinke as the only MLB pitchers this season to last 5 1/3 innings without a K.
In the fourth inning, Smeltzer gave up a one-out triple to MJ Melendez in the fourth but got out unscathed. After Smeltzer left the game with a 4-1 lead, the Royals drew within 4-3. Then a clutch two-run double by Jose Miranda in the eighth provided breathing room.
“The Royals always play us tight, and they have a good bullpen,” Baldelli said. “I was happy with the way our guys persevered.”