MINNEAPOLIS -- The matchup between veteran right-handers Zack Greinke and Sonny Gray left hitters mostly puzzled and unable to mount much pressure early on in Tuesday night’s game.
The Royals struggled to track Gray’s movement. Greinke was locating his pitches for a second straight outing and he had allowed only one earned run in six strong innings.
When the starters were gone, Minnesota surged at the plate and Kansas City failed to capitalize on its big opportunity in the top of the seventh, resulting in a 9-0 loss at Target Field.
Greinke (4-8) was charged with three runs (one earned) on nine hits with no walks and five strikeouts. He has surrendered just one earned run over his past two starts, spanning 12 1/3 innings.
“He’s all location and mixing it up,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He was very unpredictable again. You could see the curveball was a really good pitch for him, got him out of some jams. He was locating the fastball and whenever he does that, he just has them off balance to where he can use the other pitches.”
Greinke took his third loss against the Twins this season. It’s the first time he’s lost three games in a season to an opponent since he dropped four to Minnesota in 2010.
In the process, Greinke still hasn’t won a game on the road since Aug. 13, 2021, a span of 13 starts. While Greinke pitched effectively in a quality start, he didn’t seem pleased after the game.
“The other team was swinging good,” Greinke said. “Made a lot of good pitches and they were just hitting balls hard all day long. It was a tough day pitching.”
After a single and a flyout in the second, Bobby Witt Jr. couldn’t handle a ground ball off the bat of Gilberto Celestino. Gio Urshela, who had a four-hit game, reached second base and scored on a sacrifice bunt from Sandy Leon to open the scoring in the second inning. Greinke looked like he may have had a play at the plate.
“Looking back, I think I made the right choice going to first,” Greinke said. “At the time, I thought maybe there was a play at home. But I’ve seen that play 20, 30 times, and half the time the pitcher tries to get the out at home and he ends up being safe. And then there’s a bunch of guys on and no one out.”
Celestino eventually scored for a 2-0 Twins lead. The lone earned run against Greinke was on a Celestino solo homer in the fourth.
“It’s very hard when the game starts and those guys are out there pitching with good stuff,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Greinke, he’s a tough guy to face. He kind of makes you question what you’re seeing sometimes, literally. He does so many different things with the baseball, and it looks funny. It comes out of a spot where you don’t expect it.
“All of these deceptive things that he does, it feels many times what you’re looking for might seem like a good idea, but he knows what you’re looking for a lot of the time. That’s kind of what it feels like. Our guys battled him very tough, kept fighting, put a few runs on the board. We had to battle it out against him until we were able to break it open.”
Gray ended up with six scoreless innings and 10 strikeouts, five looking. The Royals went down looking seven times in the game.
“We thought the umpire was being a little liberal with the strike zone, but they were strikes,” Matheny said. “Once again, we talk about it with Brady [Singer], it’s unusual movement when you watch Major League hitters react like they were reacting. [Gray] made pitches that he needed to make and had plus movement.”
Kansas City had its chance against Gray in the top of the seventh when Salvador Perez and Vinnie Pasquantino logged singles to start the inning. Left-hander Caleb Thielbar relieved Gray and ended the threat with a ground ball and two strikeouts.
Minnesota went on to score three times in the seventh and eighth innings against the Royals’ bullpen.
“We’re right there still in that game with an opportunity again and miss it,” Matheny said. “You can’t let those go. We got to make a mark. Unfortunately, those are catching up with us.
“We’ve got to figure out how to grind and fight, and take those gritty at-bats to where we put something in play to put pressure on the defense to where we can get something across the board.”