MINNEAPOLIS -- In his first start in nearly two months, Ian Kennedy delivered a strong outing, but it wasn't enough to secure a victory for the Royals in their series finale with the Twins.
Minnesota catcher Willians Astudillo launched a two-out, two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth off Jason Hammel to give the Twins a 3-1 victory and a series win at Target Field.
But the silver lining on the day was a solid showing from Kennedy, who was activated from the disabled list on Saturday after having been sidelined with a left oblique strain since July 10. He worked efficiently in his return, needing just 93 pitches over six innings as he held the Twins to four hits.
"I was excited just to pitch in a big league game," Kennedy said. "I knew my adrenaline was gonna bring everything up. Overall, I was always able to locate my heater real early on. Curveball was working well, and then when I did fall behind on guys, I was able to locate the fastball and everything else when I was behind on counts. So that just kept us in it, and [Cam Gallagher] called a great game, because that's the first time I've thrown to him, even in the spring."
Throughout the afternoon, Kennedy only encountered trouble once. Minnesota strung together three singles in the third inning, and Ehire Adrianza plated Robbie Grossman to give the Twins a 1-0 lead.
But Kennedy held the Minnesota bats quiet for the rest of his outing. After issuing a one-out walk to Max Kepler in the fourth, he rolled Astudillo into a 5-4-3 double play to cut down any chance of the Twins tacking on another run.
"[Kennedy] threw the ball well," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He really did. Tried to go down, back-foot slider on the one run he gave up and kind of left it middle in a little bit. But outside of that, got to our target zone. We wanted to go somewhere between 80 and 90 pitches. He was around 95 and still strong at that point. So that was good. He looked completely healthy and looked like old Ian."
Kennedy was extremely effective with his four-seam fastball and topped out at 93.3 mph. He got 14 called strikes with the pitch and generated six more swinging strikes. He also got five whiffs on his knuckle curve.
"That's where he normally is," Yost said of Kennedy's velocity. "That's no different than when he's feeling good. It's about 93 with life."
Sunday marked the first time since June 6 that Kennedy held an opponent to one run or less in a start.
In the sixth, Raul Mondesi launched a solo homer to deep right field to knot the game at 1. It was Mondesi's seventh homer of the season. Batting from the left side of the plate, it was just the second time this year that Mondesi has homered to right field.
The Royals got a clean seventh inning from Kevin McCarthy, while Tim Hill and Brandon Maurer blanked the Twins in the eighth. Minnesota's bullpen trio of Zack Littell, Taylor Rogers and Trevor Hildenberger matched them pitch-for-pitch and held the Royals to a single run over the final five innings after Twins starter Chase De Jong tossed four scoreless frames in his Twins debut.
Kepler roped a two-out double in the bottom of the ninth to the right-field corner, and then Astudillo stepped to the plate and delivered his decisive swing, sending Hammel's hanging slider into the left-field bleachers.
HE SAID IT
"I'm facing Major League hitters. You can actually set up hitters a little bit, and you have a little bit of adrenaline going into a game like this. In a Minor League rehab start, you're just trying to work on the same pitches, and next thing you know, they're excited to face you. They're ready to jump you. After that first inning of my last rehab start, I was just like, 'You know what, I'm just gonna try to remember how to get outs at Double-A.' I felt a lot better as the innings went on." -- Kennedy, on what felt different between his outing on Sunday and his last rehab outing
The Royals will head home and begin a seven-game homestand, starting with a three-game set with the White Sox that will begin on Monday at 7:15 p.m. CT. Jakob Junis will get the start for Kansas City, fresh off a strong outing in which he held the Indians scoreless over seven innings. Lucas Giolito will get the nod for the White Sox.