KANSAS CITY, Mo. » Miguel Sano is honest about his weakness. He knows what the scouts all say: Breaking pitches give him fits. And they’re right.
“Yeah, they’re trouble,” Sano said before his first major league game. “But I try to compete with the pitcher. They throw me bad breaking ball, I let it go. They groove [a pitch], that’s what I hit.”
Eventually, he’s certain that will be true. On Thursday night, though, Sano debuted with a 1-for-4 night that was frequently foiled by a slider.
Good thing for the Twins that Kyle Gibson’s sinker was just as effective. The right-hander shut down the first-place Royals on just four hits over eight innings, leading the Twins to a 2-0 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
For Sano, it was the same lesson in his long-awaited that Byron Buxton put so well last month: “I didn’t see sliders like that” in the minor leagues.
The Twins’ top slugging prospect, serving as the designated hitter and batting sixth, saw 18 pitches from Kansas City starter Chris Young and relievers Franklin Morales and Greg Holland, and put only two in play. One was a line drive that center fielder Lorenzo Cain easily caught to lead off the second inning; the other was a soft tapper toward third in the ninth that third baseman Mike Moustakas couldn’t reach in time to prevent the big rookie from recording his first big-league hit. It proved to be a big hit, though; Eduardo Escobar later hit a triple that drove in pinch runner Shane Robinson for an insurance run.
Sano’s other two at-bats went well — until he reached 3-2 counts. In both cases, Sano fouled off a fastball, then swung and missed a slider. In both cases — the first against Young, the second against Morales — his strikeout ended innings and stranded runners at third base.
Those runs could have come in handy, because the Twins were providing Gibson with virtually no room for error. Kurt Suzuki doubled in the fifth inning, and Danny Santana tripled him home, but that was the extent of the Twins’ production against Young, who nearly no-hit them last month in Target Field.
Gibson, however, made it work, as he usually does against Kansas City. The right-hander now owns a 2.20 career ERA against the Royals, but he didn’t seem to have his sharpest command Thursday, walking four batters.
But the Royals failed to produce a timely hit in the rare instances where Gibson gave them a chance. When Kansas City loaded the bases in the fourth inning, for instance, Salvador Perez looked at slider for strike three to end the threat. And in the eighth inning — with his pitch count edging above 100 — Gibson worked out of a two-on, one-out jam.
Omar Infante led off the inning with a single, and speedster Jarrod Dyson pinch-ran, and quickly stole second base. Gibson induced a ground out to third from Alcides Escobar, but walked Moustakas on a 3-2 sinker. Manager Paul Molitor stuck with Gibson, though, and it paid off: Cain reached for an outside sinker and missed to strike out, and Eric Hosmer bounced harmlessly to second, ending the threat.
Glen Perkins followed by pitching a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out Kendrys Morales before getting groundouts from Alex Gordon and Perez for his 26th save in as many chances.