Fernando Romero’s major league debut for Minnesota carried the extra weight of a Twins team that won only once in its previous 12 games.
No pressure, kid.
Well, he sure didn’t appear to feel any.
Romero kept Toronto scoreless while pitching into the sixth inning, giving the Twins a badly needed boost in a 4-0 victory over the Blue Jays on Wednesday.
“I can be here. I feel comfortable. I’ve got no excuses. I’m ready to work. I’m ready to compete,” Romero said, dismissing several questions from reporters about whether he felt first-start jitters.
Eddie Rosario homered for the Twins, who won for only the second time in their last 13 games. Romero (1-0) was a big reason why, striking out five in 5 2/3 innings while giving up four hits and three walks. Four relievers preserved the shutout, allowing only two singles the rest of the way.
After four of nine games were wiped out by wintry conditions during their first homestand this year, the Twins finally enjoyed some ideal spring weather upon their return to Target Field. They won only two of six games, though, avoiding an even worse outcome were it not for the strong right arm of the 23-year-old Romero.
“His stuff is alive,” manager Paul Molitor said, “and he made a lot of hitters uncomfortable.”
With a fastball clocking in at 95 mph or higher, Romero deftly worked out of two-on, one-out situations in the second, fourth and fifth innings. He struck out Teoscar Hernandez on a caught-stealing double play to end the third, when first base umpire Phil Cuzzi ruled Hernandez’s swing was not checked. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons argued from the dugout and was ejected by home plate umpire Dan Bellino. Gibbons was tossed for the first time this season, the 45th ejection of his career, and bench coach DeMarlo Hale took over.
In the fourth, Kendrys Morales, who homered twice on Tuesday, struck out to end the inning on an 87 mph slider in the dirt that was blocked by catcher Jason Castro. Hernandez hit into an inning-ending double-play groundball in the fifth.
“He was very confident in how he wanted to attack certain hitters and what he was looking to do,” Castro said. “That’s a great sign.”
Max Kepler, Robbie Grossman and Gregorio Petit drove in runs, and Joe Mauer, Eduardo Escobar and Rosario each had two hits for the Twins. They improved to just 19-39 against the Blue Jays since 2010, their second-worst winning percentage over that span against an American League opponent.
Marcus Stroman (0-4) had his best performance in six turns for the Blue Jays this season, his longest appearance and his first with fewer than four runs allowed. The right-hander gave up six hits, two runs and one walk in seven innings. He struck out five, effectively working a cut fastball into his repertoire.
“My stuff is getting better and better with each start,” Stroman said. “I know my work ethic. I know that I’m a horse. I know I’m going to get stronger and stronger as the year progresses.”
In his last 36 home games since Aug. 8, Rosario is batting .343 with 13 homers, 10 doubles and 30 RBIs in 143 at-bats. That includes home runs in consecutive games against the Blue Jays on Sept. 16-17.
After focusing on hitting to all fields during his batting practice on Friday, Rosario went 5 for 12 in the series with four RBIs. The left-hander’s homer in the second inning reached the bullpen behind left-center.
“He’s got power all over the field,” Molitor said. “Letting the ball travel. I think by doing that, for one, you’re going to see it a little bit longer, and you’ve probably got a better chance of keeping it in the zone.”
PILLAR OF THE LINEUP
Kevin Pillar went 2 for 3 with a walk and took a hit from Brian Dozier with a diving catch in center field in the seventh. He’s batting .361 with 13 extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in his last 19 games.
“It started in spring training,” Hale said. “When you really go back, he was playing pretty well and doing some things in spring training that kind of carried over to the season here. Really, that’s pitch selection and putting the barrel on the ball.”
Blue Jays: CF Curtis Granderson is healthy, but he went 0 for 9 with seven strikeouts in the series.
Twins: CF Byron Buxton will accompany the team on the upcoming 10-game road trip, after taking some swings in the batting cage on Tuesday. He has not been cleared to run yet, beyond on an anti-gravity treadmill. Placed on the DL with migraine headaches more than two weeks ago, Buxton has been recovering from a hairline fracture in his left big toe after fouling a ball off his foot on April 22 in a minor league game. Molitor said he might not need another rehab assignment.
Twins: RHP Jake Odorizzi (2-2, 3.94 ERA) pitches on Thursday night to start a four-game series in Chicago. RHP Reynaldo Lopez (0-2, 1.78 ERA) takes the mound for the White Sox.