MINNEAPOLIS — Heading into his team’s day-night doubleheader against Kansas City, one of Ron Gardenhire’s top priorities was protecting Minnesota’s taxed bullpen.
Scott Diamond and Cole De Vries eased their manager’s concerns.
Diamond began the day tossing eight solid innings in a 7-2 victory, and De Vries closed it with six strong innings as the Twins completed the day-night sweep by beating the Royals 5-1 on Saturday night.
“A long day of baseball, and two nice wins,” Gardenhire said.
The pair of victories helped the Twins finish June with a 14-13 record — their first winning month in almost a year.
“Geez, that’s the first I’ve heard of it,” said Joe Mauer, who hit his fourth homer in the second game. “But, you know, we’ve been playing pretty good baseball and hopefully we can continue to do that.”
Josh Willingham and Chris Parmelee also homered for the Twins in the second game. But the story was De Vries, who was called up as the 26th player on the roster as allowed for doubleheaders — and promptly sent back down the minors after the victory.
“He wouldn’t be able to pitch for probably four or five days right now,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve got eight until the All-Star break, it doesn’t make much sense to keep him here.”
De Vries took the move in stride.
“Coming here, I knew I was the 26th guy, and usually the guy who comes up to be the 26th guy goes back down, and so I kind of figured that was going to happen,” he said.
Pitching in front of his hometown fans, De Vries (2-1) struck out a career-high six and held the Royals to five hits. Kansas City’s lone run against him came on Billy Butler’s homer leading off the second.
Luke Hochevar (5-8) allowed five runs and eight hits, including Minnesota’s three homers.
A night after throwing five relief innings, the Twins’ bullpen was needed for only four combined in the doubleheader thanks to Diamond and De Vries. Twins relievers entered the day with the third-most innings pitched in the majors.
De Vries struck out four in the first two innings, fanning Jarrod Dyson and Alcides Escobar to work out of a second-inning jam with runners at second and third.
Alex Burnett, Tyler Robertson and Jared Burton each pitched an inning of scoreless relief.
Hochevar entered the game having thrown 16 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings after stopping Houston and Tampa Bay.
After Mauer’s two-out single in the first, Willingham homered. In the second, Parmelee hit his first homer of the season on a shot to deep right. Mauer’s solo homer to left-center, the former AL MVP’s first since June 2 and fourth overall, barely cleared the wall to make it 4-1 in the third.
Before Saturday, Hochevar had given up only two home runs in his previous 42 2/3 innings.
“Two of those home runs came with two strikes when I’m trying to put a guy away, and I just felt like my curveball didn’t have that finish, that bite,” Hochevar said.
Trevor Plouffe, who homered in the first game, scored on Darin Mastroianni’s RBI single in the sixth.
Easily the Twins’ most effective starter since being called up in May, Diamond (7-3) allowed two runs and six hits to give Minnesota a big lift.
“I was feeling confident earlier, this is just icing on the cake I guess,” Diamond said. “I’m pretty happy to be able to just keep going out. With a doubleheader today, I’m just trying to eat up as many innings as possible.”
Jonathan Sanchez (1-4) didn’t fare nearly as well. While Diamond cruised through Kansas City’s lineup, Sanchez issued six walks and was done after 4 1-3 innings. Both starters finished with 101 pitches.
Minnesota strung together five consecutive hits to open a 6-0 lead in the fifth inning, including a strange RBI single from Brian Dozier.
With one out and runners on first and second, Dozier’s bouncer hit the ground behind him and rolled fair. While Sanchez and catcher Brayan Pena scrambled after the ball, Dozier sprinted safely to first and Ryan Doumit scored all the way from second.
Alexi Casilla added a two-run double and Denard Span had an RBI single before Royals manager Ned Yost brought in Vin Mazzaro.
Yuniesky Betancourt drove in Kansas City’s first run with a groundout in the sixth. He also singled in a run in the eighth.
Diamond struck out four and walked two while pitching eight innings for the second consecutive start. Glen Perkins finished the seven-hitter.
“The first game, we were dead,” Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. “It carried over to the second game. We’re a much better hitting team than to do what we did today. It’s disappointing.”
NOTES: Sanchez pitched five effective innings to win at the Los Angeles Angels in his first start of the season on April 8, but has struggled since that victory. He is 0-4 with a 7.19 ERA in his last nine starts. … The doubleheader was a makeup of an April 28 rainout.
– Associated Press –