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Early homers not enough for Royals

Brian Hall
Associated Press
Kansas City Royals third baseman Hunter Dozier (17) rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning of Sunday's game at Target Field. The Royals grabbed an early 2-0 lead but fell 4-2.

MINNEAPOLIS – Max Kepler hit a two-run homer to support another strong start from Randy Dobnak, and the Minnesota Twins beat the Kansas City Royals 4-2 on Sunday.

Dobnak, the surprise right-hander who was promoted four levels last season before making a postseason start, continued his impressive run in 2020 with two runs allowed, both on solo homers, in 5 1/3 innings. Dobnak (4-1) gave up just three hits, while his ERA rose from a majors-best 0.90 to 1.42.

"This is just more of what we've seen," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "We've seen great outing after great outing."

Alex Avila doubled, walked twice and scored a pair of runs for Minnesota, which has won four of six after being swept in Kansas City last week. Sergio Romo collected his third save.

Rookie Brady Singer (1-2) allowed three runs and four hits in 5 2/3 innings for the Royals. Hunter Dozier and Alex Gordon each hit solo home runs to give Kansas City a 2-0 lead after two innings.

After the game ended, the Royals bench was visibly upset and third base coach Vance Wilson was pointing and yelling. Kansas City manager Mike Matheny said the Twins were taunting his team, and some Royals took offense.

"I think what you're seeing is the result of being able to hear everything each bench says," Matheny said. "Can't take emotions out of this game either and a little taunting to our sides and the boys didn't like it a whole lot."

Dobnak was undrafted, pitched in an independent league and was an Uber driver before his 2019 breakout. He entered Sunday's game with just two runs allowed in 20 innings this season and had given up just one home run in 48 1/3 innings in the majors.

Dozier greeted him with a two-out, opposite-field homer in the first, and Gordon followed with another solo shot in the second. Dobnak retired the next 11 batters he faced.

"I was frustrated for like a split second and then I'm like, 'OK, let's keep moving on,'" Dobnak said. "I'm going to keep challenging guys. I'm not going to be afraid to throw any pitch at any time really. Results are going to vary, obviously, and the best to those two, I guess."

Avila walked to start the third. He went to second on a wild pitch and third on a balk from Singer before scoring on a groundout. Avila walked again to start the fifth before Kepler hit his sixth homer of the year.

"It's just one or two mistakes a game and I did that again," Singer said. "I'm learning, I'm still learning each and every time, which is good. You've just got to obviously take away some of the mistakes. But other than that, I felt really good."

RARE TROUBLE

Tyler Clippard relieved Dobnak with two runners on in the sixth. Dozier hit a sinking liner to left field that was snagged by Eddie Rosario. Rosario doubled off Whit Merrifield from second with the runners moving on the pitch to end the inning.

Minnesota relievers entered the day facing just nine inherited runners in 21 games. Only the St. Louis Cardinals, limited to seven games due to a coronavirus outbreak, had inherited fewer. Only one inherited runner has scored against Twins relievers this season.

STUCK IN A RUT

Jorge Soler struck out three times. He extended his streak to eight straight at-bats ending in a strikeout before singling in the seventh. Soler started the day tied for second in the majors with 30 strikeouts. Seattle's Evan White was the leader with 35.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Royals: C Salvador Pérez was scratched from the lineup before the game due to blurry vision in his left eye. ... Right-hander Jakob Junis was placed on the injured list, retroactive to Aug. 13, with lower back spasms. Junis was scheduled to be the primary pitcher in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader but was scratched with back spasms and low back discomfort. C Meibrys Viloria was recalled and started Sunday in place of Pérez.

Twins: Baldelli said that LHP Rich Hill is likely to slot in one of the three games in the upcoming series against Milwaukee. Hill has been out since July 31 with left shoulder fatigue.

UP NEXT

Rookie LHP Kris Bubic (0-2, 5.40 ERA) will start the series finale for Kansas City on Monday. Minnesota will use right-handed reliever Matt Wisler (0-1, 1.80) to start the game as an opener. Bubic, a first-round pick in 2018, will be making his fourth career start. He gave up five runs in five innings at Cincinnati in his previous outing.

SATURDAY TWIN BILL

Whit Merrifield had three hits, including a three-run homer, to back Danny Duffy's strong start as the Kansas City Royals came back to beat the Minnesota Twins 4-2 and split Saturday's doubleheader.

Duffy (1-2) allowed two runs – one earned – on two hits in five innings. He struck out eight for Kansas City, which has won six of its past eight games, including a home sweep of Minnesota last week. Trevor Rosenthal issued a leadoff walk in the seventh but struck out the next three batters for his fifth save.

"We needed that from Duff right there," said Matheny, who earned his 600th win as a manager. "We needed him to get through five for us. He really showed something to us that last inning coming through and giving us an opportunity to get in there and hand the ball off to (Josh Staumont) and Rosy."

Nelson Cruz homered in both games of the doubleheader and now has 407 career home runs, tying Duke Snider for 56th on the all-time list. The Twins won Saturday's first game 4-2 as Cruz had a pair of hits.

In the second game, Merrifield lined a pitch into the left-field bleachers after Minnesota starter José Berríos (1-3) walked two batters earlier in the inning.

"This is the second time we're seeing Berríos in a row," Merrifield said. "Familiar with him, familiar with all of his pitches, seen all his pitches these last however many at-bats I've had. ... So, I saw a changeup out of his hand and it was a good pitch for me to hit."

Berríos gave up four runs in four innings. He surrendered five hits, tied a season-high with four walks and struck out six. He's given up eight runs in 9 1/3 innings in his past two starts, both coming against the Royals.

"Honestly I don't feel really far (off)," Berríos said of his pitches. "If I minimize the walk, I would be in better position. ... I want to take that positive step."

Duffy, who entered the game with the third-best ERA among Twins' opponent starters with at least 100 innings pitched since 2011, was rarely in trouble.

Minnesota scored once in the first following an error. Duffy retired 14 of 15 batters at one point, interrupted only by Cruz's sixth homer of the season that went off the facing of the second deck in straightaway center field.

"We never really got anything going," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "We have to give ourselves a little pat and say 'That's on us, we have to give ourselves better at bats to give ourselves a chance."

FIRST GAME STARTERS

Ian Kennedy started for the Royals and pitched two innings as the opener, his first start since Sept. 28, 2018.

"Going in today, it just went right back into that starter routine I've literally done my entire life," Kennedy said. "You have that routine for eight, nine years in big leagues. Last year, I had different routine. This year, I have a new routine."

Former Royal Jake Odorizzi was sharp early in his second start of the season following back trouble. He didn't allow a hit until Salvador Perez singled with two outs in the fourth and struck out six in the game.

"I felt much better today, much more stronger, more like myself," Odorizzi said. "So, that's encouraging. I've still got a little ways to go. Today was definitely a big step in the right direction."

FIRST TASTE

Saturday marked the first doubleheader of the season for Minnesota and the Royals after severe weather postponed Friday's series opener. All doubleheaders in Major League Baseball during this virus-shortened 60-game season are seven-inning games.

"First time I've played a seven-inning game since probably the minor leagues when you play a doubleheader," Kennedy said. "You kind of catch yourself, it's the fifth inning, you're facing the back end of the bullpen (it's time to get going)."