Forest Lake’s Matt Wallner drives in a pair of runs in Twins’ loss to Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Twins began the season with an outfield of Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Alex Kirilloff and Gilberto Celestino. Trevor Larnach and Kyle Garlick quickly joined the active roster, too.

Perhaps if more of them had been healthy, the Twins’ top outfield prospect, Matt Wallner, wouldn’t be getting a chance this September. But with all but Celestino on the injured list, the Twins called down to St. Paul for the hot-hitting Wallner, who had torn up Double-A pitching before being promoted to Triple-A in mid-July. And in his brief taste of the majors, Wallner has made a strong impression at the plate.

The Forest Lake native provided the offense in the Twins’ 5-2 loss to the Royals on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium, driving in both runs with the second multi-hit game of his young career.

Minnesota Twins outfielder Matt Wallner leaves the field during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Guardians in Cleveland, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

The 24-year-old has collected seven hits in his first six games as a major leaguer, including two Wednesday that came with two outs. Wallner knocked in Gary Sánchez in the second inning, cutting the Royals’ lead to 2-1 at the time. And in the fourth, his double brought home Nick Gordon, again cutting the Royals’ lead to a run.

“He’s competed very well,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “They’re good quality at-bats and he’s been pretty consistent with that. … You can really see when he makes a pass at the ball, it’s violent, it’s with intent and if it barrels up, it’s going somewhere quickly, so I’ve been happy with what I’ve seen from him.”

The rest of the offense, though, could do little against Daniel Lynch and a group of Royals relievers, finishing with six hits and going 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position.

The Twins spent most of the day trailing after starter Bailey Ober gave up a home run in the first inning to leadoff hitter MJ Melendez. Later in the frame, Wallner had a Salvador Perez flair fall just in front of him in right field and then get by him. Wallner slipped on the grass in foul territory, and Bobby Witt Jr. ran through the stop sign at third base and scored the Royals’ second run of the inning. Perez was credited with a double and an RBI.

In his second start since coming off the injured list with a groin injury, Ober gave up five runs on seven hits in five innings. That came after a 29-pitch first inning that threatened to knock him out of the game early. Ober, who finished with 70 pitches in his first start, got up to 85 on Wednesday.

“It was a pretty grindy one,” Ober said. “I didn’t feel the best out there with stuff and location, but going through five innings, I felt like I was able to kind of battle, and those last two innings I felt like were pretty big to get some zeroes and leave the team with a chance.”

The Royals (60-89) tacked on a pair of runs against Aaron Sanchez after Ober’s exit, though, and the Twins’ offense was unable to get much of anything going.

The Twins (73-76) fell nine games behind Cleveland in the AL Central. With 13 games left, their elimination number is five.

“The runs are tough to come by right now. You just have to find a way, whether it’s manufacturing or a coming up with a couple guys on, getting a big swing, making something happen,” Baldelli said. “It feels like they’re a little few and far between right now. We might have one guy who comes out and has a good day. But we need more, from up and down the lineup. No other way to look at it. You’ve got to find ways to score here, and it was definitely a tough day for that.”

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