Shoemaker 'unlucky' as Twins drop series

May 30th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- Pitching coach Wes Johnson and the Twins issued a challenge to a few starts ago: Don’t hold back at the beginning of your outing. Don’t worry about saving energy for the later innings. Don’t be afraid to empty the tank, starting from the first pitch.

That led to success in his last several starts, and things continued to look good for Shoemaker as he cruised through the first four innings of Sunday’s outing against the Royals. Then, he hit a wall in the fifth. Shoemaker allowed four singles and a walk -- and, as has been the case all season, the bullpen couldn’t clean up the mess. That big inning sent Minnesota to a 6-3 loss and a series defeat to Kansas City at Target Field.

Alex Kirilloff’s first career three-hit game and Ben Rortvedt’s first MLB homer were overshadowed by the Twins’ inability to fully capitalize in two bases-loaded situations and on a pair of late rallies in the seventh and eighth innings.

The result was reminiscent of Friday’s series opener, when Randy Dobnak loaded the bases to end his start, and the inning ballooned out of control. And based on the way Shoemaker looked through the first four frames, this kind of blowup was tough to see coming.

“When it does come down to a couple of innings, you’ve got to find a way to not let that be deflating,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think that’s probably a good way of saying it, because we’ve been playing very well.”

Shoemaker had retired 11 in a row from the first to fourth innings after a pair of weak hits plated a first-inning run for Kansas City, and he’d only needed 50 pitches to get to the fifth. At that point, he already had 10 swings and misses -- two shy of his season high. His splitter was particularly sharp, drawing four of his five strikeouts.

The frustrating part for the right-hander was that he didn’t think anything changed in the fifth. The aggressive Royals swung early in counts and put balls in play, but they were on the ground -- exactly what Shoemaker wanted.

“Honestly, I feel like today was one of my best execution days,” Shoemaker said. “I executed a lot of really good pitches. Overall, I felt great. And even at first in that fifth, maybe a couple of hard-hit balls, but overall weak-contact ground balls.”

Edward Olivares’ leadoff single was just out of reach of Andrelton Simmons. Kelvin Gutierrez’s single scooted up the middle. Shoemaker did get the double-play ball he wanted off the bat of Hunter Dozier, but Simmons and Jorge Polanco couldn’t get the ball to first in time as the tying run crossed home plate.

Jarrod Dyson had another ground ball scoot through, this time against the shift. Whit Merrifield poked another softly into left to give Kansas City the lead.

“Get the double-play ball, somehow he barely beats it out,” Shoemaker said. “It's like, 'OK, screw it, get another double-play ball.' Got a couple more ground balls, just happened to be singles. They found their way through.”

In a different world -- if Simmons charges the potential double-play ball harder, if Shoemaker doesn’t spike an easy pickoff to first -- that all might have been mitigated without the bullpen being put in another compromising situation. Only one of those batted balls off Shoemaker carried an expected batting average higher than .420, but they all chained together to spiral another frame out of control for the Twins.

“I hate to say it, but I'm just sick of being unlucky,” Shoemaker said.

This bullpen just hasn’t left much wiggle room for bad luck. After Shoemaker loaded the bases by walking his final batter, Carlos Santana, lefty Caleb Thielbar entered and allowed two of those runners to score -- exactly in line with the 66.7 percent of inherited runners driven in against Minnesota’s bullpen this season, nearly double the league average of 35 percent.

Shoemaker’s ERA climbed to 5.90, which he doesn’t feel is indicative of how he’s pitched as of late, including quality starts in his previous two appearances.

“I’m really happy with where I am and I’m still improving, and that’s what’s great because I know I still feel like I’m getting better,” Shoemaker said. “Today, execution-wise, felt really good, and the results just absolutely sucked.”

That’s often felt like the case for this team as a whole this season, which has seen lapses in execution or luck at inopportune times ruin otherwise strong efforts -- and again, it got in the way of building some much needed momentum.