After pulling out a 5-4 victory in 10 innings on Tuesday night, the American League Central Division-leading Minnesota Twins will try to go for a sweep of their brief two-game series with the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium.
Kyle Gibson, who finished 10-13 with a 3.62 ERA in 2018, will take the mound for the Twins while Homer Bailey will make his debut for the Royals.
Gibson went 1-1 with a 4.26 ERA in three starts against Kansas City last season while Bailey, trying to build on an impressive spring with the Royals, is trying to move on from a disastrous 2018 campaign with the Cincinnati Reds that saw him finish with a 1-14 record and 6.09 ERA in 20 starts.
One player Bailey and the Royals will no doubt be extra careful pitching to is Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz.
Cruz’s two-out single in the 10th inning drove in Willians Astudillo with the winning run in Tuesday night’s opener. He also had a two-run double off the fence in right-center and leads the team with a .375 average to go with a homer, two doubles and six RBIs.
Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said that Cruz, who signed a one-year, $14.3 million free-agent contract with a team option for $12 million, has been worth every penny so far on and off the field.
“It’s early in the year but I don’t think we can ever overemphasize the effect Nelson has in everything that goes on,” Baldelli said. “I get a chance, and the staff gets a chance, to watch him interact in this clubhouse and prepare for games and lead by example in a lot of different ways.
“When the game starts, he is a force in the lineup. We respect everything that he does. It’s not just hitting the ball — the 3-0 swings and hitting doubles and homers and things like that. It’s the quality of the at-bats when it matters the most. It’s easy to see that right now.”
Cruz’s game-winning hit Tuesday night took some of the spotlight away from Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, who had three hits, including the 99th inside-the-park home run in team history and a double, and also stole two bases. The 23-year-old Mondesi is batting a team-best .417 with two doubles, two triples, a home run and five RBIs after four games.
“He’s just coming into his own offensively,” said Kansas City manager Ned Yost. “He exhibited power, he exhibited speed, range in the infield … coming into his own.”
“That guy is exciting to watch,” added Royals pitcher Brad Keller. “He’s just unbelievable defensively and unbelievable on the base paths and is swinging the bat really well. It’s a lot of fun to be on his team. I’d hate to face him honestly. He’s on fire right now.”
The Twins will likely be without starting center fielder Byron Buxton for Wednesday afternoon’s contest. Buxton, who is hitting .308 with two RBIs, left Tuesday night’s win after crashing hard into the center-field fence trying to catch Mondesi’s inside-the-park homer in the eighth inning.
“He’s actually okay,” Baldelli said. “He has a contusion. That’s what the diagnosis is. We’re going to take a day or two and see how he progresses. As of now I think we have potentially escaped a little something.”
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