Fatigue invaded the limbs of Royals starter James Shields midway through the second inning Saturday. He needed 50 pitches to complete that gloomy frame, and at some point, he admitted after a 7-1 defeat to the Twins, the toll affected his performance.
Trouble manifested itself in the form of a misplaced change-up to Minnesota first baseman Joe Mauer. The 3-2 pitch came after the Royals had committed a pair of errors in the inning. As Shields searched for a way out, pitching coach Dave Eiland said “he was really trying to manipulate it,” rather than trusting his arsenal.
Catcher Salvador Perez set up down and away. The pitch broke up and in. “Right back into his happy zone,” Eiland said.
Mauer launched a three-run shot, a crushing blow for a Royals club that appeared lost offensively during their first two games here at Target Field. The Royals hit the road hoping to gain ground over a nine-game stretch against the Twins and Astros. Now they’ll turn to Jason Vargas on Sunday to stave off a sweep by their division rivals.
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On Friday night, Bruce Chen stumbled and the bullpen collapsed behind him. Saturday afternoon, Shields did all the ugly work on his own. He yielded seven runs, all of them in the first two frames, but managed to drag the team into the sixth. He departed with two outs as manager Ned Yost gave the ball to new addition Danny Duffy.
The past three seasons, Shields allowed seven runs in a game on six separate occasions. On Saturday, six of the runs were unearned. He is partly to blame for that, as was third baseman Mike Moustakas. Both committed fielding errors in the second.
Working from behind, the Royals’ hitters once more looked lifeless against a Twins starter. Ricky Nolasco limited them to one run across eight innings.
At first pitch, the thermometer read 50 degrees. A cold snap descended on Target Field before the game, and the Royals dressed accordingly. The temperature befit the team’s current afflictions at the plate. They entered the game ranked 26th in the majors in on-base plus slugging percentage, fresh off mustering only one run against young right-hander Kyle Gibson on Friday.
“The weather didn’t have anything to do with it today — it was a nice day out,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “We’re just simply not getting the job done right now. There’s no reason to make excuses about it.”
Added Yost: “They’re not hitting. Simple as that. We’re just not hitting the ball.”
The Royals have played only 10 games, far too small a sample size from which to panic. But these past two games have been troubling. They’ve been outscored 17-2 by a team projected to dwell in the American League Central’s basement.
In those 10 games, the Royals managed only one home run. The Twins surpassed that total in two innings on Saturday. The fourth pitch of Shields’ day was a 92-mph fastball over the middle. Second baseman Brian Dozier lined it into the left-field seats.
Shields escaped the inning after yielding another pair of screaming line drives. Both were caught. His luck dried up in the second, and his fielding contributed to the downfall.
The Twins cracked a pair of singles to start the second. Catcher Kurt Suzuki pushed a bunt back toward Shields. As catcher Salvador Perez signaled for a play at third base, Shields wheeled to throw. The baseball didn’t cooperate.
Shields botched the transfer. He gritted his teeth and screamed into his glove. The bases were loaded. There were no outs — and disaster was lurking around the corner.
“If I make that play on the bunt,” Shields said, “it’s a whole different ballgame.”
Shields issued a run-scoring walk to light-hitting outfielder Aaron Hicks. Then Dozier slashed a hard ground ball toward Moustakas. The ball skipped off his hands and into left field. Moustakas reached into his glove but found only air. Instead, two runs scored.
To the plate came Mauer. After he went deep, Shields remained in the game. He lugged the club through several more innings. Both teammates and Yost commended him for that.
For Shields, it was little comfort.
“I guess it was a good job by me,” Shields said. “But overall, I wasn’t too pleased with my outing.”