Nolasco, Twins stymied in opener against KC
Right-hander yields 11 hits, big two-run home run in series opener
KANSAS CITY -- The Twins' offense came in hot, but Royals left-hander Jason Vargas was hotter.
Vargas rarely blinked on Friday night against a Minnesota offense that was averaging 5.73 runs per game -- best in the Major Leagues. Operating like a skilled surgeon, Vargas meticulously waded through the opposing hitters while delivering seven shutout innings in a 5-0 victory over the Twins that enabled the Royals to exact some revenge for that three-game sweep last weekend at Target Field.
"He's a pitcher, not just a thrower," Twins right fielder Chris Colabello said of Vargas. "He thinks his way through things. He kept us off-balance with the changeup for a lot of the game."
The first inning provided a snapshot of the Twins' overall picture of frustration. With two outs, Joe Mauer and Colabello produced singles. But Trevor Plouffe popped out softly to right field. And so it went. The Twins have been adept at drawing walks this year, but Vargas walked only one. He scattered seven hits and had Minnesota reeling with a series of lazy fly balls and soft groundouts for the most part.
When Vargas needed his defense to come through, the Royals responded. Left fielder Alex Gordon flashed his Gold Glove form with an assist as Josmil Pinto tried to stretch a deep drive into a double. Gordon also made a nice catch in foul territory on Mauer's liner.
Whereas the Twins had all the answers against Kansas City a week ago, it was the Royals who were in command with Vargas setting the tone.
"[Vargas] was very good and that's a couple of times in the last week," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He again located his fastball really well. He had the nice little curveball and then always that great changeup. He was cutting his fastball and running it away from us."
Twins starter Ricky Nolasco simply couldn't keep pace with the string of zeros that Vargas was putting on the scoreboard.
The Royals got all the offense they would need in the third inning when they strung together four hits and scored twice. Run-scoring singles by Omar Infante and Eric Hosmer provided a springboard to the club's fourth consecutive victory.
Vargas didn't have his usual pinpoint control through two innings, but he was in a groove from the third through the seventh.
"It wasn't easy," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "The first two innings, he really battled his command. He was up to almost 50 pitches and then he gathered it back in."
The Royals went up 3-0 on another Infante RBI single in the fifth. Then, Mike Moustakas hit a two-run homer off Nolasco in the sixth and Kansas City was in cruise control.
Vargas left after throwing 113 pitches.
"The defense really saved us," Vargas said. "I got the pitch count up early and was fortunate to have some short innings [later]. Gordon made that throw and that catch … it was just a good all-around defensive game."
The Twins were shut out for the first time this season and the lack of offense left Nolasco with no margin for error. Despite allowing 11 hits, Nolasco said he wasn't displeased with his effort. He regretted only the two-run homer that Moustakas hit.
"I thought I did a decent job for the most part," Nolasco said. "They did a good job finding holes and the homer was big, kind of putting it out of reach there."
The Twins aren't the only team to fall under Vargas' spell this season. Vargas lowered his ERA to 1.24 and has completed at least seven innings in all four of his starts.
The Royals were just glad they got that type of starting pitching while matched against Nolasco.
"He's a great pitcher with great stuff," Moustakas said. "We were just able to get to him a little bit today."