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 at Target Field.
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.
Dyson to IL
After making two appearances for the Twins following his trade from San Francisco, reliever Sam Dyson has gone on the injured list with right biceps tendinitis.
Dyson allowed six runs and six hits in his two appearances with Minnesota, wasting a three-run, ninth-inning lead in a loss at Miami on Thursday.
“He didn’t have any open injuries, and from our medical review and otherwise we felt good about where he was,” Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said Sunday.
Left-hander Devin Smeltzer was recalled from Triple-A Rochester and scheduled to start Sunday’s series finale against Kansas City. Jake Odorizzi was pushed back to Monday against Atlanta.
Minnesota also is without outfielder Byron Buxton (shoulder) and right-hander Michael Pineda (triceps).
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.
On Saturday, Cruz, the Twins’ 39-year-old slugger extended his recent tear, hitting three home runs in a game for the second time in 10 days in 11-3 victory over the Royals.
A day after he homered, doubled twice and drove in five runs, Cruz again had five RBIs.
“I think my approach is the right one,” Cruz said. “My body feels good, and I have the right approach.”
Cruz hit a two-run homer in the first inning, a solo drive in the second and a two-run shot in the sixth. He didn’t get a chance at a record-tying fourth home run — he was left on deck when Jorge Polanco grounded out to end the eighth.
Cruz has 11 homers and 23 RBIs in his last 10 starts.
“Hopefully I keep finding runners on base,” Cruz said. “I can only drive (in) runs when I find runners on base. We’ve got a great lineup. They all get on base for me.”
Cruz connected for a career-high three homers on July 25 against the White Sox, and matched that mark against the Royals. He has 30 homers this year and 390 for his career, tying Graig Nettles for 62nd place.
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.