Sparkman ‘a little too fine’ in loss to Twins

MINNEAPOLIS — The Royals’ string of quality starts ended with a thud at seven when starter Glenn Sparkman couldn’t make it through six innings, and couldn’t hold a three-run lead against the Twins on Saturday night at Target Field.

Minnesota tied it at 4 in the fifth, then took the lead in the sixth and held on for a 5-4 victory.

Sparkman seemed in control through four innings, allowing just one run and two hits.

The Royals jumped on one of the Majors’ best starters, former Royal Jake Odorizzi, for a 2-0 lead in the first when Jorge Soler banged his 18th home run with Whit Merrifield aboard.

Soler hit it a projected 462 feet according to Statcast, with an exit velocity of 114 mph.

“That might have been the hardest ball I’ve ever seen hit,” Merrifield said.

Merrifield homered in the fifth, his eighth, and Lucas Duda later delivered a sacrifice fly, giving the Royals a 4-1 lead. Merrifield also had three other hits on the night, two off Odorizzi, who gave up four runs over six innings — his worst start since April 5 when he gave up four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.

Merrifield, who was roommates with Odorizzi at Class A Wilmington in the Royals’ system years ago, is now 7-for-13 in his career against the right-hander.

But Odorizzi had seven strikeouts, many of those on fastballs up and out of the zone.

“Just look at some of his starts and it’s a pretty common theme that guys swing at those pitches up in the zone,” Merrifield said. “He’s got life on that fastball, and he throws a little harder now.”

Sparkman, who had given up a home run to Max Kepler in the fourth on a curveball, also yielded a two-run home run to Marwin Gonzalez in the fifth. That homer came on a 2-0 fastball.

“That wasn’t a bad pitch to Kepler,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “But it was right in [Kepler’s] zone.”

In the fifth, third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert’s error led to an unearned run after an RBI double by Jorge Polanco, as Sparkman continued to catch too much of the plate in the inning.

“He was catching a little too much of the plate early, too,” Yost said. “But his stuff was so good he was getting away with it. They kept fouling balls back or lining it to our defenders. I think it caught up to him a little bit.”

Sparkman walked the first hitter he faced in the sixth before Yost opted for reliever Scott Barlow, who gave up a single to Gonzalez and an RBI double to C.J. Cron.

“I think I was trying to be a little too fine,” Sparkman said. “I felt really good and my defense was really good behind me. I just fell behind a little too much.”