Following a 50-minute delay to start the game, the Minnesota Twins took a brief 3-2 lead on the strength of a couple home runs off the bats of Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier, but it lasted a grand total of one inning as the Royals came roaring back for five more runs as that was all the local nine could muster offensively in a 7-4 loss Friday night at Target Field.

Despite the two home runs allowed, Yordano Ventura looked relatively impressive all night long — more on that later — while Kyle Gibson gritted and gutted through another so-so outing.

Offensively, the Twins were quiet after the third inning, and totaled just five hits on the night as Dozier had a pair, with Max Kepler, Kurt Suzuki and Sano chipping in the other three.

Here’s what we saw from our seats:

Ventura was pretty much electric

You know a guy has it going on when he hits 100 mph with his fastball on pitch No. 89 of the night. Ventura mixed it up with 28 two-seamers and 25 four-seamers, with the two-seamer average 99 mph and peaking at 100.5, and the four at 99.1 with a high of 101.6. The two-seamer was dancing all night, as he got three swinging strikes on it but managed to keep it in the zone with good frequency as well (78.6 percent). In the high-90s with that kind of arm-side run, you’d better pack a lunch up there.

But as promised in the pregame blog, the curveball was the showstopper. Ventura threw it 36 times, with 17 swings and nine misses. By my count, of Ventura’s nine strikeouts on the night, eight came on the curveball. The only other one came in the fifth inning, when Robbie Grossman was locked up on a full-count fastball after losing track of the count and thinking he’d walked one pitch earlier.

A twitter follower also passed along an interesting take on Ventura’s windup:

Sano sent a ball into orbit, and continues to battle umpires on third strike calls

For the second time in just a handful of games, Sano homered to lead off the second inning. He did so against Mike Fiers in the Astros series on pitch one of the inning, and took Ventura deep to left field for his 20th home run of the season. It’s his first trip to the 20 club, as he finished with 18 in his abbreviated rookie season last year.

Sano also took a called third strike against Royals reliever Joakim Soria in the ninth inning on a pitch he didn’t like. Brooks Baseball’s strike zone plot suggests it wasn’t a strike:

The pink dot outside the zone plot is the pitch in question (graphic courtesy Brooks Baseball)
The pink dot outside the zone plot is the pitch in question (graphic courtesy Brooks Baseball)

…but also that it was close enough that an umpire might call it either way. Given Sano’s history this year with taking called third strikes, it’s not surprising he was rung on this one. It’s sort of upsetting to see a young player with such good knowledge of the strike zone being punished in such a way, but that’s part of the game that will probably never go. Joe Mauer gets those calls, and in this case, Mr. Soria gets the edge here. Sano’s reaction after the strikeout was unusual, as he dropped the bat near the plate and sauntered all the way to the far end of the dugout before entering. Clearly, he was unhappy.

For reference as to why Sano’s plate discipline should be lauded, consider this: the MLB average rate at which players swing at pitches out of the zone is 29.9 percent this year. Sano is down to 23.9 percent, not only 6 percent shy of the league average but 2 percent down from last year. This is a player that knows the strike zone. These calls will come, eventually.

The Royals wanted to jump Gibson early in the count, and did just that

Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer each swung at first pitches in the first inning, and it led to the Royals’ first run as Trevor Plouffe’s errant throw — his second of the inning but first that Mauer was unable to corral at first — allowed the former to reach before the latter stroked a double to deep right center.

In the second, Alex Gordon led off the inning with a first-pitch swing, and that act was followed by Alcides Escobar and Paulo Orlando. Hosmer did so again in his second plate appearance in the third inning, and appeared ready to do so before taking the first pitch in his third plate appearance.

All in all, Gibson faced 27 batters and it looks as though 10 of them offered at the first pitch. Gibson said afterward that it didn’t surprise him.

“They were aggressive,” Gibson said. “They did that to me toward the end of the year last year. They came out swinging, and put up four runs on like nine pitches. You’ve just gotta execute pitches. You don’t shy away from contact. You throw the sinker in there and you change speeds with it, and execute your offspeed in the zone and utilize their aggressiveness against them. I think at times I was able to do that, and at times I could have thrown more offspeed pitches early and gotten a few more swings. They put the bat on the ball — that’s what they’re known for — they did a good job of that today.”

Plouffe had a really difficult game

It started early, too, with a pair of errant throws in the first inning. Orlando grounded to Plouffe just two pitches into the game, with Trevor’s routine throw heading into the dirt where Mauer deftly picked it out. Two batters later, Cain hit a ball that Plouffe backhanded, but his throw just didn’t have enough mustard on it and it tied Mauer up, allowing Cain to reach and ultimately score on the Hosmer double one pitch later.

And while that comes up as an unearned run in the scoresheet, it meant that Gibson wound up throwing 13 more pitches after that point. Where that is key is that not only was he coming off throwing over 100 pitches in just five innings at the Trop last time out, but this was a pitching staff starved for a night where the starter went deep into the game. Instead, this ran up Gibson’s count to the point where he was up over 40 pitches after two innings. Some of that got corrected later on with easier third and fourth innings, but that’s a tough hole to dig out of.

Plouffe also took a strange route to a jam shot off the bat of Salvador Perez in the fifth inning. Gibson got up on Perez 0-2 with a pair of sliders in the dirt off the plate that he couldn’t resist, but couldn’t get him to bite on the next two to run the count even. On pitch five, Perez literally snuck a jam shot just over Plouffe’s glove as he backpedaled instead of breaking back on the ball. As a result, the ball just missed Plouffe’s glove and that of a diving Jorge Polanco coming over from short. That gave the Royals the lead — which they would not relinquish — at 4-3.

Plouffe also didn’t have a particularly good day at the plate, as he went 0-for-4. There’s more to it than that, however. In his first plate appearance, he got up 2-0 and wound up hitting just a routine grounder to short. The second time up, he worked a 2-2 count before falling prey to one of Ventura’s curves. In the seventh and again up in the count — this time 1-0 — he hit a routine fly ball to Cain in right. And to wrap it up, and to add insult to injury, Plouffe closed out the game with a grounder to short that Escobar made a tremendous play on.

So all in all, it was a pretty difficult night for Plouffe.

So did Suzuki — at least behind the plate

All three bases the Royals stole were uncontested. As in, without even a throw. It was already not a banner year for Suzuki in that respect, but an 0-for-3 night behind the plate puts his season caught stealing rate at 19.6 percent — well below the 30 percent league average as listed on BaseballReference.com. The story goes that Suzuki’s market was limited at the trade deadline due to his inability to control the running game. This seems to back that up.

Eddie Rosario wore the collar — again

There isn’t a ton more to say here. Rosario saw 16 pitches over four plate appearances, and struck out in each. All four strikeouts were of the swinging variety, with three coming on curves (all against Ventura) as opposed to swinging through an 87.5 mph changeup in a three-pitch strikeout against Soria in the ninth.

That’s now two four-strikeout games in the span of his last four, and nine strikeouts in 16 plate appearances over that time frame. It might be Danny Santana time in center on Saturday.

Pat Dean went beast mode in the final three innings

We mentioned it earlier, but Dean was getting absolutely crushed as a starter down in Rochester after the Twins had sent him back, but he went nuts on the Royals over the final three innings. Dean fanned six of the 10 batters he faced, and the six strikeouts is the second most in an appearance in his MLB career, as he fanned eight Mariners back on May 27.

Brooks Baseball has Dean with nine swinging strikes in his 39 pitches — a fantastic 23.1 percent for those unaware — with seven of the nine swinging strikes coming on the slider. It’s way too soon to tell, but he could be useful out there as a long guy. His fastball peaked at 94 mph in the short burst, and averaged 92.3. From the left side, that’s pretty solid.

Dozier hit another doozy

Dozier’s home run was his 24th of the season, but it is amazing what he’s accomplished since he was basically benched by Molitor in late May.

Don’t Hit it to Orlando

Statcast didn’t get in on the action so we don’t have video footage, but Orlando ran what seemed like a mile to rob Sano of extra bases in the fourth inning with a sprawling catch to his right, and followed that up with another sterling play to rob Grossman of a hit in the eighth. As a colleague put it, this guy must be pretty good if they’re using Cain in right!

Notes

  • The Twins designated left-hander Andrew Albers for assignment following Friday’s game. Assuming he clears waivers and doesn’t exercise his right to refuse the assignment, he’ll head back to Triple-A Rochester in the near future to return to the Red Wings rotation. The corresponding move will be made in time for Saturday’s game, though an interesting storyline is that Rochester already played with just 22 players on Friday night, and will be one more short until Albers clears waivers. There may also be some promotions in the near future.
  • It’s a little on the random side, but just two relievers remain from the Twins’ Opening Day roster: Michael Tonkin and Ryan Pressly.
  • The Twins fell to 1-6 on the season against the Royals.

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