Thanks to shortstop Bobby Witt Jr.’s one-out double in the ninth inning Tuesday night, the Kansas City Royals avoided becoming the first team ever to suffer a combined no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins.
Rookie Joe Ryan threw seven no-hit innings with nine strikeouts before turning it over to rookie left-hander Jovani Moran, who eventually gave up three ninth-inning runs in the 6-3 win by the Twins (70-70) in Minneapolis.
The bad news for visiting Kansas City (57-85) is that things don’t get any easier when it comes to Minnesota’s starting pitching on Wednesday night.
Right-hander Sonny Gray (7-4, 3.09 ERA) is 6-2 with a 1.86 ERA in nine career starts against Kansas City, including 2-0 with a dazzling 0.75 ERA in two starts this season. Gray has allowed just five hits in 12 innings this season against the Royals while striking out 14.
Kansas City will counter with right-hander Zack Greinke (4-8, 4.00), who is just 5-12 with a 4.59 ERA in 28 career appearances (24 starts) against Minnesota, including a dismal 1-6 and 5.19 ERA in nine career starts at Target Field.
Both pitchers have a high bar to reach following Ryan’s performance in Tuesday’s opener.
With a key five-game series with American League Central-leading Cleveland on deck this weekend, Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli decided to lift Ryan despite the no-no after seven innings and 106 pitches.
Despite the boos from the home crowd, Baldelli didn’t want to over-exert his prize rookie before his next start against the Guardians, who the Twins trail by five games.
“You want to let him keep going,” Baldelli said. “But he also has to pitch in five days for us again in what’s going to be hopefully a very important situation for our team.”
It was the second time this season a pitcher was pulled after seven no-hit innings at Target Field. Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, returning from injuries that shortened his spring training, was lifted with a perfect game after throwing 80 pitches on April 13 in a 7-0 win.
Ryan has never thrown more than 110 pitches in a game. He threw 106 pitches, 72 of them for strikes, over his seven-inning stint Tuesday.
“The pitch count obviously comes into play,” Ryan said. “We’re trying to win some games and I’m throwing again in five days, too. … I totally understand that we’re still in the hunt so we make the right decision for the team.
“I definitely wanted to stay in the game. I understand why I came out. I don’t think I’ve really earned the right to fight with (Baldelli) too much on that.”
Kansas City manager Mike Matheny said he wasn’t surprised that Baldelli took Ryan out of the game.
“They’ve got games to win,” said Matheny, who had seven rookies in his starting lineup. “(106) pitches after seven, I get it’s something very special but I would have been surprised if he had stayed.”
Matheny gave kudos to Witt for breaking up the no-hitter in the ninth with his RBI double.
“Bobby’s kind of been that guy lately,” Matheny said. “We talk about (Salvador Perez) in situations, that’s a big situation. You don’t want to walk out of here with a zero, not one in the run column and certainly not one in the hit column. Bobby did a great job of getting us out of that.”
–Field Level Media