When the Royals took on Minnesota early last season, left-hander Bruce Chen was lodged in their bullpen. This year, Chen is back in the rotation, and he gets the ball on Friday.
"Last year, the circumstances were a little different," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We'd just gotten [James] Shields, we'd just gotten Wade [Davis]. We had five guys that were going to start and we started with Bruce in the 'pen, because we had Luis Mendoza. Mendy had pitched winter ball, and [he] came to Spring Training in midseason form and pitched well. We thought we'd put Bruce in the 'pen and, if we needed him at the halfway point, he'd be ready to finish the season strong, and that's exactly what happened."
Chen was effective in the bullpen last year (3-0, 2.41 ERA) and was moved to the rotation in mid-July. In his first six starts, Chen's ERA was 0.93. In 15 starts, he finished 6-4 with a 3.61 ERA, good enough for the Royals to want him back.
"This year, when we signed Bruce, we signed him as a starter. He had offers to go other places, and we weren't going to sign him to be a 'pen guy for depth. It turned out to be a good sign for us," Yost said.
This year, Chen began with a sharp 6 1/3 innings with one unearned run in a 4-3 win over the White Sox.
Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson, who got his first taste of the Majors last year, won the fifth rotation spot in Spring Training. He was solid in his first start of the year against the Indians, also on Saturday, giving up one run on three hits over five innings to pick up the win in manager Ron Gardenhire's 1,000th career victory.
"I learned a lot last year. I definitely let my emotions get the best of me in some of those outings, just the excitement and the adrenaline, I didn't use it to my advantage," said Gibson, who was 2-4 with a 6.53 ERA as a rookie. "It normally built up against me, and caused me to not execute. So I think it's more about just learning from those experiences and realizing, 'OK, there's times when you've got to step off the mound, take a breath, and deal with what you're feeling. Make sure you focus on the pitch that's at hand.'"
Gibson, a University of Missouri product, sees this as an important year in his career.
"I think I need to show I'm ready to make that next step. And I want to," Gibson said. "My expectations for myself this year are really high. And to reach those expectations, I've got to work really hard, make those adjustments that I have in the works."
While the Royals had an off-day on Thursday, the Twins were swept away by the A's in a three-game series that ended Thursday. The Twins have now lost nine straight games at Target Field dating back to last season.
"It's not fun," Gardenhire said. "It's not the way it's supposed to be. It's not like the guys aren't trying. It's just not working right now. We have to figure out a way to score runs and do our thing here."
Twins: Willingham making progress with wrist
Josh Willingham, who left Sunday's game with a bruised left wrist after being hit by a pitch from Justin Masterson, took swings in the batting cage on Wednesday and Thursday. His wrist is feeling better, and he's expected to take batting practice on Friday to test it out. The Twins remain hopeful he'll avoid the 15-day disabled list.
"He's swinging more in the cage and said he's definitely feeling better," Gardenhire said. "The big thing is they said they have to get the swelling down, so right now we're just trying to get the swelling out of there more than anything else."
Royals: Coleman saves face
Right-hander Louis Coleman is back in the Royals bullpen after eight weeks of coaxing a jammed finger on his pitching hand back into shape. It came about during pitchers' fielding practice early in Spring Training, when a batted ball loomed large in his sight.
"It was coming for my face, so I was trying to keep it from hitting me in the face," Coleman said. "I didn't even get hit that hard, so it wouldn't have hurt if it'd been in the face."
But he took the blow on his middle finger, which caused swelling and a bone bruise that required most of two months to sufficiently heal.
• Billy Butler needs one home run to tie Steve Balboni for ninth on the Royals' all-time list with 119.
• Against Chen, the Twins' Jason Kubel is batting .429 (6-for-14) with a home run, but Joe Mauer is batting .208 (5-for-24) with no homers.
• The Twins honored Gardenhire for reaching 1,000 wins with a special pregame ceremony at Target Field before Wednesday's game against the A's. Gardenhire reached the milestone on Saturday, becoming the 60th manager to reach 1,000 wins and just the 10th to do it all with one team.
• The Twins went 4-15 against the Royals in 2013 and just 29-47 against American League Central foes.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.