KANSAS CITY, Missouri — James Shields acknowledged that he didn't have his best stuff Tuesday night.
He has the bruise on his rump to prove it.
The Royals' ace struggled to find the strike zone against the Minnesota Twins, and was hit hard when he finally did. And while he managed to wiggle out of a series of jams, Shields still allowed both of the runs that doomed Kansas City to a frustrating 2-1 defeat.
"We just got out-pitched and out-played. I didn't have my best stuff out there," Shields said. "I tried to keep the team in the game as long as I could. It just wasn't enough."
As if the loss wasn't bad enough, Shields was left hobbling around behind the mound in the third inning, when Sam Fuld ripped a liner at him. It hit Shields squarely in the left butt cheek and ricocheted toward third base, where it was retrieved for a rather painful groundout.
Shields (9-6) ultimately threw 124 pitches — two shy of his career high — while walking four in six innings. The runs came on Josh Willingham's sacrifice fly and Brian Dozier's RBI single.
"A bit erratic. He got his pitch count up early," Royals manager Ned Yost explained. "At the end of five, he's at 100, which is uncharacteristic for him."
His counterpart, Kyle Gibson, was having no such trouble for Minnesota.
He allowed a single by Alcides Escobar in the third inning and another by Nori Aoki in the sixth over seven dazzling innings. Gibson (9-8) was at his best at the end, too, setting Kansas City down in order in the seventh on four seemingly effortless pitches.
"I don't know what it was tonight," he said. "I just had a lot of confidence."
Casey Fien worked the eighth before Glen Perkins ran into trouble in the ninth, giving up a leadoff double to Omar Infante and an RBI single to Eric Hosmer. Perkins bounced back to get three straight pop outs and record his 26th save of the season.
"The loss is frustrating in general. It doesn't matter how it is," the Royals' Billy Butler said. "It's not fun to lose, especially in a 2-1 game like that. We should have put up more runs."
That's been a common refrain for Kansas City, which has scored three runs or fewer in seven of its past 10 games. Two of those games have been shutouts.
"It's just one of those days where we had a tough day offensively," Butler said.
REVIEW THE REPLAY: Twins manager Ron Gardenhire wanted a review of a replay in the third inning, when he thought Royals left fielder Alex Gordon trapped the ball in robbing Chris Parmelee of a hit — and likely saving a run. After challenging the call, Gardenhire was incensed that it stood, taking out his frustration on plate umpire Ted Barrett. Gardenhire was tossed after a nose-to-nose confrontation. "I just wanted to find out what happened," he said. "I was just looking for an explanation. He threw me out really quick. He was really hot."
ONE-RUN WOES: The Royals dropped to 12-21 in one-run games this season, a mark that would be even worse if not for 2-1 victories over Chicago and Cleveland in the last week.
BIG WORKLOAD: Shields threw his most pitches as a member of the Royals, and the 124 tied for the third-most of his career. It was the most by a Royals pitcher since May 8, 2010, when Gil Meche threw 128 pitches in a 3-2 loss at Texas. "They were sitting on some really good pitches," Shields said. "Their plate discipline was phenomenal tonight."
Twins: Catcher Joe Mauer (strained right oblique) swung in the batting cage and plans to hit live batting practice Wednesday. Right-hander Ricky Nolasco (sore elbow) also felt good after a bullpen session. He plans to throw another one Thursday.
Royals: Hosmer was back in the lineup after missing six of the past seven starts with a bruised right hand, while LHP Jason Vargas (appendectomy) also reported no problems after throwing about 60 pitches during a four-inning simulated game. "Today went well," he said.
Twins: Right-hander Phil Hughes makes his first start since leaving a game July 24 against the White Sox with a bruised right shin. Hughes (10-7) won his previous start in Kansas city April 20.