Twins shut down Royals behind Bonser
Kubel homers, scores both runs as Minnesota clinches series
KANSAS CITY -- Boof Bonser entered this past offseason with a specific goal in mind: to drop some weight -- which hopefully would allow him to pitch deeper into outings.Bonser certainly accomplished the first part of the equation by shedding nearly 30 pounds by the start of the regular season. And if his first three starts this season are any indication, the second part of Bonser's mission has also been a successful one. For the third straight outing, Bonser delivered a quality start, holding the Royals scoreless on just three hits over six innings Saturday in the Twins' 2-0 victory at Kauffman Stadium. "I think his hard work is showing early," closer Joe Nathan said. "He's feeling better late in games and making pitches to get us into the seventh and eighth inning. It's nice to see that, and hopefully it's giving him some confidence. This has been a good start for him to get things rolling." The right-hander certainly looked to be rolling Saturday, as he did not give up his first hit until the fifth inning. After Royals catcher Miguel Olivo struck out to start the inning, Ross Gload singled to left field to break up the no-hit attempt. Bonser (1-2) issued two walks, his first of the season, and struck out four while throwing 89 pitches. "Any time I can go past the fifth, I'm happy with that," Bonser said. "I probably would have gone out for the seventh had it been a little warmer. But we had the long inning right before that and it was cold." On a very chilly night in Kansas City, where wind chills once again dipped near the freezing mark, offense was at a minimum for both teams. But it was the Twins who got the big hits when it counted. One such moment came in the second inning, when Jason Kubel hit a solo home run off Royals starter Brett Tomko. With two outs, Kubel battled through an eight-pitch at-bat before belting an inside cutter over the right-field wall. "[Tomko] had come in a couple of times on lefties with two strikes, and you know, Kube didn't let him in there," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He was able to get the bat head through the zone. He's been swinging good for us." It was the only offense the Twins could muster until the seventh inning. That's when Kubel once again sparked a rally, this one with his second hit of the night. Kubel led off the seventh with a ground-ball single to second baseman Mark Grudzielanek. Then Brendan Harris and Denard Span followed with two consecutive singles off Tomko, and Kubel scored on Span's RBI single to center field to make it 2-0. The road trip has been a good one for Kubel, who is starting to heat up after a slow start. He's raised his batting average to .265 on the season after going 5-for-16 (.312) over the first four games of the trip, which included a grand slam in Wednesday night's victory in Chicago. "It feels pretty good right now," Kubel said of his swing. "I'm not getting a lot of hits right now, but there are a lot of balls getting caught, too. I feel good. I don't feel quite like I did at the end of last year, but I feel 100 times better than I did at this time last year. When it warms up and you can play comfortably, I think it will come around even more." The Twins appeared to have a chance to break the game open in the seventh. Following Span's single, Tomko was replaced by right-hander Ramon Ramirez. Nick Punto then laid down a bunt along the third-base line to load the bases with no outs. But the Royals were able to answer the threat. Ramirez got Carlos Gomez to strike out swinging before left-hander Ron Mahay got Matt Tolbert to hit a pop-up to the shortstop and punched out Joe Mauer on a called third strike. It was the long seventh inning that prevented Bonser from going back out on the mound, but the Twins' usually reliable bullpen took care of the rest. Matt Guerrier and Pat Neshek combined to hold the shutout through the eighth inning, each pitching a scoreless inning. Joe Nathan then kept the Royals from scoring in the ninth as he recorded his fourth save of the season. "We've talked about that a lot. If our starters can get deep into the game like that and give us a good chance to get to our bullpen, we feel good about that," Gardenhire said. Saturday's win was the Twins' second straight shutout against the Royals. The last time the Twins had shut out an opponent in back-to-back games came on July 5-7, 2004, when they held the Royals scoreless in three straight at the Metrodome.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.