MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Royals wanted to look at the bright side, at least James Shields saved wear and tear on most of the arms in the bullpen.
Of course that good deed came after he was tagged for seven runs in the first two innings and the Minnesota Twins plodded to a 7-1 victory on a 50-degree Saturday afternoon at Target Field.
For the second straight game, the Royals scored a single run against the Twins and lost the first two games of the series by a combined total of 17-2.
Shields surrendered two home runs in the first two innings to delight most of the 23,963 fans on hand. Brian Dozier opened the first inning with a homer to left field. The Twins' six-run second inning was decorated by Joe Mauer's three-run blast.
It was a horrendous inning for Shields. It started with a couple of singles and then Shields botched Kurt Suzuki's bunt instead of getting a forceout at third base.
"If I make that play on the bunt, it's a whole 'nother ballgame," Shields said. "I was just trying to throw to third and the ball popped out of my glove."
Bases loaded and then he walked in a run for a 2-0 Twins lead. After a strikeout, Dozier hit what Royals manager Ned Yost thought would be an inning-ending double play ball. But it zipped through third baseman Mike Moustakas for an error and two more runs. Then up came Mauer.
"I was trying to go down and away, and try to get a ground ball," Shields said. "Even though it was a 3-2 count, I was trying to get a changeup down and away, and I just hung it. He's a good enough hitter that he's going to hit that every time."
Mauer's first homer this year sailed over the right-center-field wall and it was 7-0. Never mind that all six runs in the second inning were unearned. They still counted.
By that time, left-hander Danny Duffy, just rushed in from Triple-A Omaha, was warming up. But Shields was determined to save the bullpen. So he kept pitching and kept pitching, right into the sixth inning.
"I told Skip I was good to go after the second," Shields said. "Anytime you have 60-something pitches after two, it's kind of hit or miss, but it's my job to keep going and try to go as deep as I can, and try to keep that bullpen fresh even though I gave up seven runs. I guess that was a good job by me, but overall, I wasn't too pleased with my outing."
Shields did retire 11 of the 13 batters he faced after the second inning. Duffy finally came on with two outs in the sixth and got all seven batters he faced. So the rest of the bullpen rested and Yost was pleased with that development.
"It was real important, especially after the fact that he threw 50 pitches in the second inning," Yost said. "That's a huge workload for one inning. When you've got your ace on the mound, it starts to give you a little bit of concern, making sure he doesn't overdo it.
"But the thing about James Shields, what makes him so great, is that he never stops competing -- ever. It doesn't matter what the situation is, he continues to compete. He was bound and determined to throw every pitch that he had in his tank today to get us as far as he could to save that bullpen."
Shields finished with 115 pitches.
Dozier hadn't seen Shields pushed around like that. After all, he'd been 7-3 previously against the Twins -- including a 3-0 mark last year.
"We haven't really seen him pitch like that," Dozier said. "What makes his changeup so good is how he locates his fastball. From the very first inning -- four hard-hit balls. Second inning, everyone was lining out on his fastball. Then, he started going cutter to changeup rather than fastball. You can see the changeup a lot better when he's not throwing the fastball, not having the command."
Right-hander Ricky Nolasco, facing the Royals for the first time in his career, kept them pretty well helpless. Their only run came in the fifth on Alex Gordon's leadoff double and Lorenzo Cain's two-out double. Nolasco went eight innings, holding the Royals to five hits.
"Obviously as a whole offensively, this isn't where we want to be right now," said first baseman Eric Hosmer.
The Royals have averaged just 2.9 runs in their first 10 games, not exactly a robust showing. They have just one home run.
Hosmer wasn't looking for excuses about the weather or tough pitching or anything else.
"We're just simply not getting the job done. There's no reason to make excuses about it," he said. "We've got the guys we need and the situations and we're just not doing it right now. But we're confident in our offense. We're confident when the time comes, we're going to be dangerous and firing on all cylinders. Obviously it's not happening right now, but there's no reason for us to stress or panic. That's how you dig yourself in a deeper hole."
The Royals knew that they'd have to increase their run production by a sizable number to make serious on their postseason dreams this year. So far it's not happening.
"They're not hitting, simple as that. We're just not hitting the ball," Yost said. "We've been through this before and we know that we'll get out of it."
Soon, he hopes.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.