Twins struggle on the mound in 9-3 loss to Royals

Published 2:44 pm Saturday, June 29, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS — P.J. Walters’ spot in Minnesota’s rotation might be in jeopardy after he put the Twins in another early hole.

Walters, who couldn’t get out of the first inning in a loss at Cleveland last Saturday, struggled from the opening again on Friday in Minnesota’s 9-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals.

Walters (2-4) allowed six runs for the second straight start, this time giving up six hits — including two home runs — in three innings to lose his fourth straight decision.

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“We all have games where we struggle, everybody in the league has them,” Walters said. “I’ve just put two of them in a row together. In my eyes, it’s unacceptable. To the team I’m sure it is, too. I expect to pitch better than I did when I first got here every time, but obviously I’ve got some things I need to work on and get better at right now.”

Walters was a revelation earlier after being recalled from Triple-A in May. He allowed six total earned runs over his first four starts, but has allowed 16 earned runs in his last nine innings to see his ERA inflate to 6.03 after Friday.

In his last start against Cleveland, Walters walked five batters in the first inning. Walks weren’t an issue on Friday, but his command was still missing.

“Runs, runs scored, you’re giving up runs,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said of Walters’ issues. “You saw the home runs on pitches he didn’t get them where he wanted to. I think you saw it. He was getting behind in counts and couldn’t put the ball where he wanted to. His fastball was kind of drifting

“One of those where you’re hoping he finds it. You give him as much as you possibly can, but we end up being in a 6-0 hole.”

And Walters might not have many more chances to turn it around.

The Twins have called up coveted pitching prospect Kyle Gibson to make his major-league debut on Saturday and Gardenhire said veteran right-hander Mike Pelfrey will make one rehab start on Monday before being activated to pitch the following weekend.

With Walters and Scott Diamond scuffling, both pitchers might have one more start to change their fate before Pelfrey returns.

“I don’t make those calls,” Walters said. “My job is to pitch when they tell me to. I’ll show up tomorrow and get ready for the next one.”

Minnesota actually made Kansas City starter James Shields (3-6) work for his first win in 11 starts. Shields has been everything the Royals hoped for when they shipped top prospect Wil Myers and other pieces to Tampa Bay in the offseason to acquire Shields, but Kansas City’s punchless offense had struggled to support Shields.

Shields entered Friday night with the eighth-best ERA in the AL (2.92), third in innings (111) and eighth in strikeouts (99). But his run support of 3.00 per nine innings pitched was second-lowest in the league. The Royals, though, had scored an average of just three runs per nine innings for Shields, the second-lowest total in the American League.

Clete Thomas homered off Shields, and Justin Morneau and Brian Dozier added RBI doubles, but it wasn’t enough with Kansas City hitting a season-high four home runs, including two by Eric Hosmer off of reliever Anthony Swarzak.

“We kept trying to adjust to (Shields),” Gardenhire said. “He’s got good stuff and we took a lot of pitches. We made him throw a lot of pitches. He also did what he had to do get out of some jams and the defense made some great plays behind him and gave him some life.”

Billy Butler started the scoring against Walters with a three-run homer in the first and Mike Moustakas also homered for the Royals.

“I think after that first swing (on Butler’s home run), it really opened us up as an offense and we just we kept getting the big hit or the big swing with guys in scoring position there,” Hosmer said. “Hopefully we can put up more offensive outings like that for Shields.”

NOTES: Twins left-handed reliever Caleb Thielbar pitched a scoreless inning Friday, making him the eighth player since 1921 to start his major-league career with 14 scoreless appearances. … Rain delayed the first pitch by 26 minutes. … Ryan Doumit returned to Minnesota’s lineup after missing a couple games with a sore ankle. … Pelfrey (back) is expected to begin a rehab assignment Monday with Class-A Cedar Rapids. … The Royals entered the game with the fewest home runs in the majors (43), two behind Miami. Hosmer’s last multi-home run game came on Aug. 31, 2011 at Detroit. … The Royals and Twins play the third of their four-game series on Saturday when Wade Davis takes his 4-5 record to the mound against Gibson, Minnesota’s first-round pick in the 2009 draft out of Missouri. Gibson was 7-5 with a 3.01 ERA at Triple-A Rochester.