For the second night in a row, a Minnesota Twins starter dug a hole in the first inning. For the second night in a row, a starter tossed a complete game at Target Field.
Unfortunately for the Twins, the parallels stop in between those two sentences. One night after Bartolo Colon dug an early 2-0 hole and pulled himself out of it in a complete-game win, Rangers stud lefty Cole Hamels continued his July roll into August as he scattered four hits and just one unearned run in a 4-1 win over the Twins on Saturday evening.
It was the 16th complete game of Hamels’ career, and his second in a Rangers uniform.
Hamels had his way with a much-maligned offense that was without the benefit of the wrist-and-rest combo of Miguel Sano and Joe Mauer, respectively. Manager Paul Molitor said after the game that Sano was not available and that his status will be reevaluated in advance of Sunday’s series finale — a game the Twins must win to salvage the set.
Despite striking out just five Twins on the night, Hamels got 14 swinging strikes overall — including nine on his trademark changeup. On his fifth-inning strikeout of Eddie Rosario, Hamels threw a first-pitch ball, then backed it up with three swinging strikes — all on changeups — to record the first out of the inning.
“He threw a lot of strikes,” Molitor said of Hamels during his postgame press conference. “We had a lot of trouble with his changeup tonight. We had trouble making an adjustment. I don’t know how many outs he recorded on that pitch, but it seemed like a ton. He was good; very efficient. I looked up there for a majority of the innings, and he was averaging less than 10 pitches per inning.”
Without Sano and Mauer at his disposal, Molitor sent out a lineup that included Eduardo Escobar batting third, Chris Gimenez batting cleanup (.202/.317/.355 on the season after Saturday, but markedly better against lefties) and shortstop Ehire Adrianza making his second career start at first base.
Adrianza’s other start came in late September 2015 as a member of the Giants, as Buster Posey was day-to-day with a hip issue and Brandon Belt was out with a concussion. Adrianza acclimated himself well defensively — and the Twins, on the whole, made some incredible defensive plays — but the upshot was that Hamels certainly did his fair share, but the lineup also helped him out.
That’s not to say better options were left on the bench. Mauer’s off-day was scheduled earlier in the series by Molitor and completely independent of Sano’s injury, and Joe is hitting just .229/.325/.257 against lefties this year with just two extra-base hits — both doubles. Jason Castro’s been a bit better against lefties this year than in the past, but not much of a difference-maker overall at .250/.308/.361.
These are also the pitfalls of having just a three-man bench, as well — something the Twins may be able to sort out by bringing up Mitch Garver from Triple-A in the near future.
The Twins also didn’t do themselves any favors running the bases. With the team in an early 3-0 hole, Brian Dozier drew a two-out walk in the third inning. With Robbie Grossman up, Dozier was picked off to end the inning. It’s worth noting that for a lefty, Hamels has struggled to keep runners honest on the bases — including an 18 percent caught-stealing rate last season — but it wound up being a night where the Twins didn’t have any runners to spare, so it hurt their chances significantly.
“He’s vulnerable to the stolen base,” Molitor said of Hamels. “But he can also pick you off. We got a little anxious there. He’s got a couple moves. That one’s a bit more deliberate, where he can read the runner.”
The other miscue on the bases came when Eduardo Escobar tried to stretch a one-out single in the fourth into a double. Super utility man Drew Robinson chased the ball down in the gap and threw a strike to Rougned Odor at first, who had all the time in the world to place the tag on Escobar for the second out of the inning.
“Esco split the gap,” Molitor said. “But a combination, I think, of wet turf and I think a couple other things and the ball didn’t get out there as far as he thought it did. He tried to make a play, and the judgment didn’t turn out to be particularly good. In fact, he was out by a fair margin.”
The Twins pushed their only run across of the night in the fifth, and even that didn’t come easy. Byron Buxton looped a one-out single to right-center, and opted not to test Robinson’s arm just three batters after his outfield assist of Escobar at second. Buxton instead challenged Robinson Chirinos behind the plate, and successfully stole second while taking third on an errant throw. Adrianza hit a slow chopper to Mike Napoli at first, and Buxton scampered home with the Twins first, and only run of the night.
The first inning was bumpy in Kyle Gibson’s second return from Triple-A Rochester. Elvis Andrus reached on an infield single that a diving Jorge Polanco flagged down but didn’t have a play on. Nomar Mazara followed by ambushing the next pitch into the Rangers bullpen, and Texas had a quick 2-0 lead just seven pitches into the game.
Similarly, the Rangers led 2-0 after 10 pitches in Friday night’s game.
This time it held, however. The Rangers pushed across a third run in the second inning, as Napoli walked and moved to third on Robinson’s single to right. There was miscommunication of some sort on the play, as Napoli took not just a walking, but a running lead and was roughly halfway to second base before the ball was delivered. Chirinos followed with a sac fly to Rosario in left, and the Rangers led 3-1.
“It was a little frustrating there in a couple innings,” Gibson said. “I felt like I had a pretty good game plan. I just didn’t execute there in the first couple innings. What you saw in the third, fourth and fifth is what we were trying to do — going in on a lot of guys. I didn’t expect Mazara to be that aggressive there on the first pitch. That’s why I went away with him on the homer. After that we kind of settled in. I made a bad pitch to Chirinos on the sac fly. Same kinda thing. Just thinking we were going to get him out front on a slider.”
Gibson settled down after the first two innings, however. He allowed singles to Adrian Beltre in the third and Joey Gallo in the fourth, but faced the minimum in the fifth and fanned Beltre to open the sixth before back-to-back singles led Molitor to bring in Buddy Boshers. Boshers got Gallo to ground to second and Robinson to strike out swinging to strand a pair of runners, and that was the beginning of a stellar effort from the Twins bullpen to maintain a 3-1 deficit until the ninth.
“Gibby, I thought, got on track after a rough start,” Molitor said. “The bullpen did a good job until we let one cross there in the ninth.”
Ryan Pressly threw a pair of scoreless frames with three-pitch strikeouts of Chirinos and Mazara, while Taylor Rogers allowed a single run in the ninth in a situation that may have been, perhaps, questionable.
With two outs in the ninth, Rangers manager Jeff Banister pinch-hit Carlos Gomez for Robinson. Rogers reared back and drilled Gomez in the back side with a 95 mph fastball — his fastest of the night — and that clearly did not sit well with the Rangers center fielder. Gomez hit a home run in the ninth against Colon on Friday night, and wasn’t exactly prompt about getting around the bases or subtle about his emotions afterward, so maybe it’s possible that bled into Saturday night’s game? We’ll probably never know.
But Gomez came around to score after stealing second when Chirinos singled to left. That run proved semi-important in the ninth, as Hamels allowed a leadoff double to Polanco. Dozier came up and would have represented the tying run otherwise, but instead the tying run remained on-deck for the rest of the game as Dozier grounded to third, Grossman popped to second and Escobar grounded out to Andrus.
Before the Polanco double to lead off the ninth, Hamels had set down the previous 11 Twins he’d faced in order, going back to the Buxton single which came around to score the team’s only run.
- The start of the game was delayed 45 minutes by rain.
- Rogers has six straight appearances in which he’s allowed at least one run. His ERA has jumped nearly two runs (1.93 to 3.92) over that stretch, which dates back to July 22 against Detroit.
- Gibson tied a season-high mark with 12 swinging strikes. He’s done it twice before — May 22 at Baltimore and June 2 at Los Angeles.
- The loss dropped the Twins to 3-3 against the Rangers on the season.
- Polanco’s double snapped an 0-for-20 against left-handed pitchers, per the game notes.
- Gimenez batted cleanup for the second time in his MLB career.
- The Twins confirmed the dismissal of four scouts on Saturday: Mark Wilson (Midwest), Marty Esposito (Texas), Alan Sandberg (Ohio/Penn./W.V./upstate N.Y.) and Ted Williams (Southwest). Wilson is probably the most well-known of the bunch, as he was the scout responsible for Mauer and Glen Perkins.