- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Ricky Nolasco was virtually unhittable a week ago in Minnesota, shutting down the scuffling Royals over eight innings in an easy victory that came amid a three-game sweep.

Nothing was easy for Nolasco on Friday night.

The right-hander was battered around for the better part of six innings, out-pitched by the Royals’ Jason Vargas in a 5-0 loss that opened the Twins’ three-game series in Kansas City.

“It’s not tough. You just have to go out and keep making pitches,” said Nolasco, who gave up all five runs in 5 2-3 innings. “Obviously there was the homer, but I hung with them. They put guys on base and capitalized on it.”

The homer came from Mike Moustakas, a two-run shot in the sixth inning that broke the game open. Omar Infante also drove in two runs for the Royals, who have won four straight.

The Twins’ opening day starter, Nolasco (1-2) has struggled in three of his four outings - his first appearance against Kansas City the exception. In the other three games, he’s allowed 15 earned runs in just 15 2-3 innings, with two losses and a no decision.

Not exactly what the Twins hoped for when they signed him to a four-year deal in December.

“That’s the beauty of this game, why it’s so special,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “You don’t know what you’re going to get out of anybody. You just have to take advantage of the opportunities that you get.”

Meanwhile, Vargas (2-0) allowed seven hits while striking out four in another dazzling start. The crafty left-hander, who signed a four-year deal of his own in the offseason, lowered his ERA to 1.24 while going at least seven innings in each of his four outings this season.

Vargas put runners on base each of the first five innings, though he was never in serious trouble. Only twice did a runner reach second base and each time a lazy fly ball ended the inning.

“I don’t know, man. I’ve had games where I pitched well and games where I haven’t. I don’t really think about it,” Vargas said. “I just take the ball every fifth day.”

Even when the Twins hit a ball hard, Alex Gordon was there to make a play.

The Royals’ Gold Glove left-fielder threw a strike from the warning track to second base in the fourth inning, cutting down Josmil Pinto as he tried to stretch a single. Two innings later, Gordon made a running catch into the padding in foul territory on Joe Mauer’s fly ball.

“That one was easy,” Gordon said with a smile.

Escobar sent a charge through the Royals’ anemic offense with a double in the third inning, and consecutive singles by Nori Aoki, Infante and Eric Hosmer staked them to a 2-0 lead.

Infante’s single drove in Escobar to make it 3-0 in the fifth.

Billy Butler, in the throes of a massive slump, singled in the sixth before Moustakas, also off to a slow start, sent a pitch sizzling into the seats in right. His second homer of the season made it 5-0 and chased Nolasco from the game.

Neither team threatened to score again, the Royals wrapping up their first shutout win and the Twins getting blanked for the first time this season.

“Ricky had to battle. They put them in play and got some guys on. And then there was the big two-run home run,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We just couldn’t get anything off Vargas.”

NOTES: The Royals placed OF Jarrod Dyson on the bereavement list and recalled INF/OF Jimmy Paredes was recalled from Triple-A Omaha before the game. … An MRI exam on Royals OF Lorenzo Cain (strained groin) came back negative. Manager Ned Yost hopes to have him back after a 15-day DL stint. … Twins OF Jason Kubel got the night off from the starting lineup. He flied out as a pinch hitter in the seventh. … LHP Bruce Chen (sore back) will start for KC on Saturday. He was initially scheduled to pitch Thursday. RHP Kevin Correia will start for the Twins. … There was a moment of silence before the game for the victims of the shootings Sunday at a Jewish community center and nearby senior living center in suburban Kansas City.

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