MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Devin Smeltzer’s meditation routine kept him calm on the way to his first major league win.
Smeltzer pitched two-hit ball into the seventh inning, and the Minnesota Twins completed a three-game sweep by blanking the Kansas City Royals 3-0 on Sunday.
Jason Castro homered and Eddie Rosario drove in two runs for the Twins, who maintained their three-game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central. Luis Arraez had two hits and scored twice.
Making his third career start in the middle of a pennant race, Smeltzer looked calm as he efficiently worked his way through the Royals’ lineup.
“I was really just impressed with how he carried himself, and that hasn’t changed at all,” said Castro, who was behind the plate for Minnesota. “Every time he’s come up, he seems very confident, not shook by being at this level in big spots.”
That’s a good sign for the Twins, who are dealing with some injuries with their pitching staff. Michael Pineda is out with a right triceps strain, and newly acquired reliever Sam Dyson was added to the injured list Sunday morning with right biceps tendinitis.
That cleared the path for Smeltzer’s promotion, giving originally scheduled starter Jake Odorizzi an extra day off.
“I don’t foresee many scenarios where he doesn’t fit in,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I see him certainly playing a big role going forward one way or the other.”
Baldelli stopped short of saying how exactly Smeltzer would be used. Smeltzer wasn’t complaining, though.
“I believe that I’m a starter and can get the job done and I believe I can do it (in) the pen as well,” Smeltzer said. “I spoke on it the last time I was up here, whatever they call on me, if it’s playing right field, I’m going to do my best to help the team win.”
Smeltzer, who likes to meditate on the field before games, struck out four and walked one on 90 pitches. He started the seventh but was replaced by Tyler Duffey after issuing a leadoff walk to Alex Gordon. Duffey struck out Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler, and Castro cut down Gordon attempting to steal second.
Rosario tacked on an RBI single in the eighth to give the Twins some cushion.
Sergio Romo pitched a scoreless eighth for Minnesota, and Taylor Rogers finished the two-hitter for his 17th save in 23 chances.
Brad Keller (7-11) blanked Minnesota’s high-powered offense — which scored 22 runs in the previous two games — through five innings, looking every bit as tough as Smeltzer.
“I was just hoping we could find a way to score some runs for him, because he has been pitching so well,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “But, their lefty over there (Smeltzer) did a great job keeping the ball down, moving the ball in, moving the ball out.”
Keller ran into trouble after Arraez led off the sixth with a single. Arraez advanced on a wild pitch, went to third on Nelson Cruz’s groundout and came home on Rosario’s sacrifice fly.
Castro connected against Keller with two out in the seventh. It was his 11th of the season and No. 217 for Minnesota, tops in the majors.
Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield went 0 for 4 to snap his streak of 135 straight games without back-to-back hitless games. He also went 0 for 4 on Saturday.
“I didn’t know people kept streaks like that,” he said. “Looking back on it now it sort of reflects the good stretch of consistency that I’ve had, which is what I strive for. It makes me feel good about what I’ve done.”
Twins: The newly acquired Dyson joined a long list of players on Minnesota’s injured list. Having barely arrived in Minnesota in a trade with San Francisco last week, the Twins hope Dyson’s time away is a matter of days, not weeks. Baseball operations president Derek Falvey said he was surprised. “He didn’t have any open injuries, and from our medical review and otherwise we felt good about where he was,” Falvey said.
Royals: Mike Montgomery (0-2) takes the mound for Monday night’s series opener at Boston. Montgomery is coming off a loss against Toronto on Tuesday, when he allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings.
Twins: After his unexpected day off, Odorizzi (12-5) starts his first home game against a National League team when Atlanta visits for a three-game set. Odorizzi is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA in two career games against the Braves, who visit Minneapolis for the first time since 2016.