The Royals have been a pain for the Twins this season. And on Friday night, the pain was all too literal.
Not only did the Twins lose a ballgame, 7-2, at Kauffman Stadium, but they lost two pitchers as well. First, it was starter Jake Odorizzi exiting in the fourth with a right abdomen contusion after he was struck by a 103.2-mph comebacker off the bat of Alex Gordon. Later, it was reliever Zack Littell exiting in the seventh with right elbow inflammation.
It appears as though both injuries could have been much worse. Though Odorizzi was still in noticeable discomfort after the game, X-rays were negative. He was fortunate to avoid any broken ribs or an injury to his arm.
“I saw the replay, and it missed my elbow by a couple inches,” Odorizzi said. “All things considered, I feel pretty lucky to have missed that. I’ll be good in a little while. I just have to manage the soreness.”
Meanwhile, the Twins were planning further evaluation of Littell, who left shortly after serving up a two-run homer to Hunter Dozier.
“Zack’s does not appear to be a very serious arm injury,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “But he is dealing with some inflammation, tendinitis-type soreness that’s progressing. ... That’s disappointing as well, obviously. Anytime a guy can’t go out there and throw, it’s not what you’re looking for. But I have reason to be optimistic with Zack’s issue.”
Baldelli noted that the presence of the taxi squad on the 10-game road trip gave the Twins some cushion to not have to make a decision on any roster moves immediately after the game.
While the injuries were not characterized as serious, they did amplify the frustration of another defeat at the hands of a Kansas City club responsible for half the Twins’ losses (five out of 10) so far. The Twins are 3-5 with a minus-6 run differential against the Royals (including 0-4 at Kauffman) and 14-5 with a plus-40 run differential against everybody else.
Kansas City is not just a frustrating opponent for the Twins but a familiar one. This is the third straight weekend the two American League Central clubs are facing each other, and that’s led to the bizarre dynamic in which every inning Odorizzi has pitched this season has been against the Royals team for whom he made his big league debut back in 2012.
“There wasn’t too much to trick them with today,” Odorizzi said.
The Royals jumped on him quickly, scoring four runs in the first -- an outburst aided by a popup that fell near the feet of first baseman Miguel Sanó and capped by Jorge Soler’s three-run homer -- before Odorizzi recorded an out. The Twins, held mostly silent by Danny Duffy, never recovered, though they did get one bright spot in the emergency three innings of scoreless relief provided by Jorge Alcala.
A high-stakes year for Odorizzi has doubled as a difficult one. He accepted the Twins’ qualifying offer last winter with the hope that another strong season in Minnesota could elevate his free-agent standing, unattached to Draft pick compensation. Instead, back stiffness delayed his readiness for the shortened season, and the Royals have roughed him up for nine runs in just 10 innings across three starts.
He hopes to make his next one on time ... and against somebody other than the Royals.
“It’s just one of those times right now where I feel good physically, but I just need to get stamina, I need to build up, I need that Spring Training length to get all the kinks out,” Odorizzi said. “I wish I would have hit the ground running. But physically -- other than getting Happy Gilmored in the chest -- physically, I feel OK.”
This loss marked a rough start to the Twins’ longest road trip of the year and a continuation of some upsetting injury trends. They put Mitch Garver (intercostal strain) and Byron Buxton (left shoulder strain) on the injured list Thursday. They are still waiting for Josh Donaldson (right calf strain) to make his mark and for the Bomba Squad, as a unit, to return to the forefront.
“We’ve had a couple of tough days physically,” Baldelli said. “You go through these things every season. It’s something that in baseball and in sports and in life, you’re going to have tough times. We have the kind of group that bands together and gets through things well.”