MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Melky Cabrera and Felipe Paulino were given fresh starts by Kansas City in 2011. The two showed Monday night why they have the Royals excited for 2012.
Cabrera became the first Kansas City player in 11 years to reach 200 hits and Paulino (4-6) won for the third time in his last four decisions as the Royals topped the Minnesota Twins 7-3.
Cabrera hit an infield single and scored the game’s opening run in the first inning, then another infield single for his 201st hit to spark a four-run sixth. He became the sixth player in Kansas City history to eclipse 200 hits and the first since Johnny Damon and Mike Sweeney both did it in 2000. Cabrera’s previous career best for hits in a season was 149 in 2007 while with the New York Yankees.
“I’m very thankful for the Kansas City Royals organization for giving me the chance to play here every day,” Cabrera said through interpreter and teammate Brayan Pena. “I never thought this offseason I would have a season like I’ve had, but I work hard and try to do my best to improve my game.”
Kevin Slowey (0-8) was tagged with the loss for Minnesota, its third straight against the Royals. The Twins must win both of their final two games against Kansas City to avoid its second 100-loss season since moving to the Twin Cities in 1961.
Cabrera has combined with Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur to lead all Major League outfields with a .298 collective batting average, 581 hits, 218 extra-base hits, 141 doubles and 937 total bases. The trio is also among the top four with 296 runs, 270 RBI and a .831 OPS. They are three of only five players in baseball with at least 40 doubles, 15 homers and 15 steals.
The 27-year-old Cabrera has chipped in with career bests in home runs (18) and RBI (87) while poised for his first career .300 season at .305 with two games to play.
All three players have surpassed even the team’s most optimistic expectations.
“I felt like all three would have really solid years, but what they’ve done has gone way above that offensively and defensively, as a group and individually,” manager Ned Yost said. “They’ve been fantastic. They’ve put up historic numbers.”
On defense, Gordon, Francoeur and Cabrera all have double-digit assist totals — just the second outfield trio to accomplish the feat in club history.Gordon’s 20 outfield assists lead the majors and Francouer’s 16 are second.
The trio goes into the offseason on Thursday with easy instructions from Yost for 2012.
“All three of them, none of them have to do anything more than they did this year,” Yost said. “They have showed up every single day ready to play and perform.”
Yost hopes he can count on the same from Paulino.
Acquired May 26 from Colorado for cash considerations, Paulino continued his career revival with Kansas City by allowing three runs and six hits in six innings, striking out nine. The right-hander has 17 strikeouts in his last two outings and at least eight in three of his last four starts.
“I really have an appreciation for the Royals bringing me back to this team,” Paulino said. “You get the opportunity to be a starter, so show what you’ve got. I’m so excited for the great team we have. It will be nice to be part of this next year, part of the rotation here.”
Paulino has a 4.46 ERA with the Royals. He came to Kansas City with a 5.93 career mark in 223 innings.
“I’m happy for him,” Yost said. “He got a second life here with us and he took full advantage of it.”
Michael Cuddyer hit his 20th home run of the year for the Twins off Paulino, reaching the plateau for the third time in his career. But even he had nothing but praise for the 27-year-old.
“He’s got as good of stuff as anybody in this game, anybody we’ve faced all year,” Cuddyer said. “Stuff-wise, I’d put him right up there with any of them.”
Slowey allowed five runs and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings, becoming the first major league pitcher to make at least eight starts and lose them all since the St. Louis Browns’ Lou Sleater went 0-8 in 1951, according to STATS LLC. Minnesota fell to 0-14 in games Slowey pitched in this season.
NOTES: Twins assistant trainer Dave Pruemer said CF Denard Span was feeling good, five days after returning from post-concussion and migraine symptoms. He wasn’t in Monday’s lineup after playing in back-to-back games for the first time Saturday and Sunday, but was available and is expected to start Tuesday and Wednesday in attempt to finish the season on a strong note. … The announced attendance of 34,847 was the smallest crowd in Target Field’s two-year history. … Yost said before Monday’s contest that RHP Sean O’Sullivan will start Tuesday’s game against Minnesota’s Anthony Swarzak. O’Sullivan will make his first appearance with Kansas City since June 2, when he allowed seven runs — three earned — in 2 2-3 innings against the Twins. O’Sullivan was placed on the disabled list with right biceps tendinitis the next day. He last pitched on Tuesday for the Omaha Storm Chasers, taking the loss in the Triple-A championship game against the Columbus Clippers. … Swarzak will try to win for the first time in six tries since being inserted into the starting rotation Aug. 30.
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