Twins stay warm in the cold
Hernandez, four-run second the difference against Royals
KANSAS CITY -- Coming into the 2008 season, almost all of the questions surrounding the Twins focused on the club's youth.The questions included concerns about how Minnesota was relying on a relatively inexperienced starting staff and how the team would fare with so many young hitters in its lineup. But in a 5-0 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Friday night, the Twins showed that a little youthful exuberance at the plate, mixed in with a pretty crafty veteran starting pitcher in Livan Hernandez, can spell success. On a very cold night where wind chills hovered below freezing at game time, the Twins' bats managed to get hot early off Royals starter Gil Meche. Making his second straight start against Minnesota, Meche (0-2) gave up five runs on five hits over six innings. It included a four-run second inning by the Twins, one that was sparked by the team's three most inexperienced players. Meche walked two batters and struck out two before Denard Span came to the plate with runners at first and third and two outs. Span then recorded his first Major League RBI with a single to left. Carlos Gomez drove in two more runs with a double to left field and rookie Matt Tolbert followed with RBI single to finish off the scoring. "All of them were two-out base hits with some quality at-bats in there," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's three pretty young players there, and they all stayed on the ball and didn't get too excited in that situation. That was pretty fun to see." It's not like Friday's performance was an anomaly for those youthful bats, either. Tolbert, one of the most consistent offensive contributors for the Twins so far this season, extended his hitting streak to six games when he executed a bunt down the third-base line in the first inning. It was one of three hits Friday for Tolbert, who also drew a walk. Over his six-game hit streak, Tolbert has batted .588 (10-for-17) and raised his overall batting average to .556 this season. "I'm just off to a good start," Tolbert said. "All that matters is the end result. I'm trying to be consistent. I know [my average] is going to go down, but I'm just trying to have good at-bats. What else can you do? Just try to have good at-bats and be consistent." The Twins added to their lead in the third inning when Justin Morneau led off with a solo shot to right field. The first-pitch homer was Morneau's third home run of the season. All have come against the Royals, including two off Meche. But while the offense was on display early, the win was due in large part to Hernandez's ability to shut down the recently red-hot Royals. In a rematch of the starting pitchers from last Saturday's contest between the two clubs, it was Hernandez who once again came out on top. Hernandez (3-0) put together an even better outing against Kansas City this time around, holding the Royals scoreless for seven innings. He scattered seven hits and walked just one. Hernandez found himself in a few jams, most notably the one he had in the fifth inning. With the bases loaded and just one out, Hernandez was set to face the Royals' No. 4 and 5 hitters -- Jose Guillen and Billy Butler. But with a strong mix of different pitches, Hernandez got Guillen to strike out swinging on a slow curveball and Butler to ground out to the shortstop, escaping the inning unscathed. "He just located," Gardenhire said. "It just looks like he has a real good feel for what a hitter is trying to do, and you know he's able to mix it up. I think he can see when a hitter walks up there -- and on that first pitch tries to figure out what a guy may be looking for -- to stay away from that area. So it's pretty good. He's been fun to watch up to this point." Hernandez certainly has made a good first impression in his first three starts with the Twins. It was the third straight victory for the 10-year National League veteran and the third straight time he's pitched seven innings in a start. Exactly, it seems, what the Twins were looking for when they signed Hernandez to be one of their inning-eaters. "Every time I go out I try to keep the game close," Hernandez said. "We got a great bullpen, one of the best bullpens in baseball. You got to last six or seven innings and that's it. So the only thing that I think is, 'Go out there and give a chance for my team to win.' "I'm really happy here, and everything is going the way I want it. Everything is working perfect right now."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.