MINNEAPOLIS -- Jake Cave has been a pleasant surprise for the Twins in the absence of Byron Buxton in center field, and he came through in a big way on Sunday at Target Field, connecting on his first career grand slam off lefty Danny Duffy.Cave, starting against a left-handed pitcher
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jake Cave has been a pleasant surprise for the Twins in the absence of Byron Buxton in center field, and he came through in a big way on Sunday at Target Field, connecting on his first career grand slam off lefty Danny Duffy.
Cave, starting against a left-handed pitcher for just the third time in his career, helped the Twins to a 6-5 win over the Royals to complete a three-game sweep. He worked the count full against Duffy before crushing a fastball to right field for his fourth homer of the season to give the Twins a 4-2 lead in the second inning. It was a no-doubter, as it had an exit velocity of 108.7 mph and went a projected 402 feet, per Statcast™.
"I'm glad I could do something to help the team to win when I got the chance to start against a lefty," Cave said. "I know he has good stuff, he's a competitor and he's going to come right at me at some point with the heater. I got it, just stayed short and didn't try to do too much. I was rewarded with something good happening."
Cave, 25, was acquired in a trade with the Yankees before the season, with the Twins sending pitching prospect Luis Gil to New York on March 16. With Buxton dealing with injuries and offensive struggles this season, the left-handed-hitting Cave has seen regular time in center, although mostly only against right-handed starters. He's hitting .276 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 41 games.
"He's got a little moxie to his game," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "I think he's taken advantage so far. Hopefully it's good stuff for him as he tries to get himself established up here."
The grand slam helped back right-hander Ervin Santana, who lasted 4 1/3 innings in his third start of the season after undergoing surgery on his right middle finger in February. Santana struggled with his velocity, as his fastball averaged 88.8 mph, and he allowed three runs on seven hits and a walk. He gave up a two-run homer to Lucas Duda on a changeup in the first and allowed three straight singles to open the fifth before getting Salvador Perez to fly out to left. Lefty Gabriel Moya came in and got out of the jam to pick up his second career win.
"When I don't have my good stuff, I still battle with my stuff that I have right now," said Santana, whose average fastball velocity is down roughly 3 mph compared to last season. "I make every pitch and every day I feel better, so that's what matters right now."
Duffy, who entered with a 0.95 ERA in three starts against the Twins this season, served up the grand slam to Cave and also gave up two runs in the fourth. Ehire Adrianza singled home Max Kepler after a leadoff double and Robbie Grossman pulled an RBI double into the left-center-field gap to score Adrianza.
The Royals made it interesting with Whit Merrifield's two-run homer off reliever Trevor Hildenberger in the seventh. They also put on two runners with two outs in the eighth, but reliever Trevor May struck out Alcides Escobar to get out of the jam. The Twins loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth and failed to score, but closer Fernando Rodney threw a scoreless ninth to pick up his 24th save. The Royals had two runners in scoring position with two outs, but Rodney got Rosell Herrera to ground out to third on a nice play by Miguel Sano to end the game.
"It was a little [tense] out there," Molitor said. "I don't know, he figures out a way to get it done, it's a little stressful. But we found a way to win, so a nice way to finish off the homestand."
GROSSMAN PLACED ON 10-DAY DL
Grossman left the game after a one-out single in the seventh, as he sustained a mild right hamstring strain and was placed on the 10-day disabled list after the game. He was replaced by Logan Morrison as a pinch-runner, with Morrison remaining in the game and moving to first base, Adrianza moving to left field and Eddie Rosario to right field. Grossman was 2-for-4 before being removed for Morrison.
Outfielder Johnny Field was recalled from Triple-A Rochester on Monday. Field, claimed by the Twins off waivers from Tampa Bay on Friday, played 63 games this season with Tampa Bay, hitting .213 with nine doubles, six home runs and 14 RBIs.
"I felt it grab on my third at-bat, when I hit the double," Grossman said. "I got to second, and I could feel it right away. I tried to play through it, thought I could, but it just wasn't working. I've had hamstring injuries before, but it hurt. Hopefully it's not too bad."
Cave said it was the first grand slam he had hit at any level in his professional career. Cave has 45 career homers in the Minors.
"I never had one in the Minor Leagues or anything like that -- maybe in high school or something like that," Cave said. "So it was pretty neat."
HE SAID IT
"I love it. This is my dream. I'm going out there, playing big league baseball. I'm starting every day for a big league baseball club, and I wouldn't have it any other way." -- Cave, on getting regular time in center field
The Twins head to Cleveland for a four-game series against the first-place Indians that begins on Monday at 6:10 p.m. CT. Right-hander Kyle Gibson (5-8, 3.47 ERA) will be facing Cleveland for a second straight start, as he gave up three runs over six innings in a loss at Target Field on Tuesday. He'll start opposite right-hander Trevor Bauer (10-6, 2.34).
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.