KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Team Flexibility paid off on the very first day.
The Twins, who made adding depth their priority during a busy offseason, got 5 1/3 shutout innings from new starter Pablo Lopéz, plus a rally-extending walk and run-scoring single from newcomers Kyle Farmer and Donovan Solano, and opened the 2023 season with a 2-0 victory over the Royals.
Lopéz got 13 swing-and-misses among the 50 strikes he threw in his Twins debut, becoming the first Twins starting pitcher in 20 years — since Brad Radke in 2003 — to earn an opening day victory on the road. The former Marlin allowed only two hits while striking out eight and twice worked out of trouble after putting Royals runners in scoring position with less than two outs.
Which came in handy, because the Twins were masterful at stranding runners, too. Three times they left the bases loaded, and only in the sixth inning, when K.C. starter Zack Grienke tired, did Minnesota capitalize on its chances.
The catalyst, as seemingly always, was Byron Buxton, who drove a Grienke sinker into deep right-center, just out of the reach of center fielder Kyle Isbel’s dive, and easily reached third base for a leadoff triple. Trevor Larnach followed with a sharp single to left that scored the game’s — and season’s — first run. And after Jose Miranda popped out in foul territory, new Royals manager Matt Quatraro ended Grienke’s seventh opening day start.
When he brought in left-hander Amir Garrett, Rocco Baldelli showed off his newly acquired depth, sending the right-handed Farmer to hit for Nick Gordon, and right-handed Donovan Solano to hit for Joey Gallo. Farmer drew a five-pitch walk, and Solano delivered a single to left, scoring Larnach with an insurance run.
It turned out not to be needed, however, because the bullpen operated as planned as well. Lopéz was lifted with one out in the sixth inning in favor of Caleb Thielbar, who retired all three hitters he faced. Jorge Lopéz, Griffin Jax and Jhoan Duran didn’t allow a run, either, and the Twins had their first opening day victory since 2020.