Hernandez wins third straight start, Twins blank Royals 5-0

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)—Livan Hernandez is off to a Johan Santana-like start.

Hernandez, who Minnesota signed to a one-year contract on Feb. 12, became the opening day starter after Santana was traded to the New York Mets. Three starts later, Hernandez might have made a couple people forget all about the Twins’ former ace.

He scattered seven hits over seven innings Friday night, helping Minnesota beat the Kansas City Royals 5-0. Hernandez allowed only seven hits, six of them singles.

“We’ve got a great bullpen, one of the best in baseball, so you got to go six, seven innings, that’s it,” Hernandez said. “Everything is going the way I want it. Everything is working perfect right now.”

Hernandez struck out three and walked one, lowered his earned run average to 2.57, and is 3-0 for the first time since 2002, when he won his first four starts for San Francisco.

“He’s a veteran and he knows how to change speeds and locate the ball,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s what he does. No matter how many times you face him, if you’re locating like he did tonight and changing speeds like he did tonight and given the variety, they couldn’t really sit on one thing. Every time you’d sit and wait on that slow curve, he’d throw a fastball right by you at 84 miles per hour. That’s just knowing how to pitch.”

Carlos Gomez doubled, tripled and drove in two runs, while Justin Morneau homered to lead off the third inning on the first pitch from Gil Meche. Morneau also hit a three-run homer off Meche last Saturday in a 6-4 Twins victory.

The Twins sent eight men to the plate in a four-run second, highlighted by Gomez’s double that scored Brendan Harris and Denard Span. Span drove in Delmon Young for the first run of the inning and Span’s first career RBI, and Gomez scored on Matt Tolbert’s two-out single.

“There were some big two-out base hits, using the whole field to do it, shooting it the other way,” Gardenhire said. “Span, Gomez and Tolbert—that’s three pretty young players at this level—and they all stayed on the ball and didn’t get too excited in that situation and that was pretty fun to see.”

Tolbert had his first career three-hit game and has a six-game hitting streak.

“I didn’t hit one too hard; I barely got out of the infield,” Tolbert said. “I’m not complaining. The last one I got jammed on and it hurt pretty bad, obviously. I didn’t think about it anymore once I saw the base hit.”

It was 41 degrees for the first pitch, but with a 15 mph northwest wind the wind chill was 31. It started snowing soon after the game ended.

“It wasn’t cold out there,” Tolbert said. “You’re playing in the big leagues. I didn’t get cold one time.”

Gardenhire disagreed.

“That was cold and I didn’t even go out on the field,” he said.

Meche (0-2) was pulled after six innings. He allowed five runs on five hits and four walks, while striking out six. Meche, who signed a $55 million contract before last season, watched his ERA rise to 7.13.

Meche was struck in the left hamstring by a Harris bouncer to end the third inning.

“I stood up in the dugout after that cause if I sat down it would have stiffened,” Meche said. “I’ll definitely feel it tomorrow. That’s one of the hardest hit balls I’ve felt off my body. It was one bad inning, again.”

The Royals, who were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, loaded the bases in the fifth with one out, but Hernandez struck out Jose Guillen swinging and retired Billy Butler on a grounder to third.

“I know Guillen has got a lot of power, so you don’t want to miss with your pitch,” Hernandez said. “He struck out on a slow curve ball, so I’m lucky. The next guy hit a ground ball, so I got out of that inning perfect.”

Jesse Crain and Joe Nathan completed the shutout, holding Kansas City to two hits over the final two innings. The Royals have failed to score in their past 17 innings.

“We didn’t get any big hits to get back in it,” Royals manager Trey Hillman said. “Their second inning runs came after two out. Gil had trouble in spots. He was working behind in the count.”

Butler singled in the eighth, extending his hitting streak to 10 games and matching his career high. But he was thrown out at second when he attempted to stretch it to a double.

Alex Gordon had two of the Royals’ nine hits and has a six-game hitting streak. ^Notes: Gomez’s triple in the seventh was the Twins first of the season. … The Royals are 5-1 against the Yankees and Tigers, but 1-3 against the Twins.

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