At age nine, Devin Smeltzer stared cancer in the face and won.
At that rate, a big-league debut should be small potatoes, right?
Well not quite, but based on the result, one could easily think that. The 23-year-old rookie lefty sliced and diced his way through the potent Milwaukee Brewers lineup for six shutout innings, scattering three hits with seven strikeouts and no walks in a brilliant performance as the Minnesota Twins won 5-3 at Target Field on Tuesday night.
The youngster threw arms and legs at the Brewers all night long, and pounded the strike zone with 53 of his 69 pitches going for strikes — including first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 20 batters he faced.
Smeltzer didn’t get the “win” — but he got much more satisfaction than that.
“It’s everything I’ve dreamed of,” Smeltzer told the St. Paul Pioneer Press after the game. “I’ve worked for this my whole life, been through a lot and it all came true.”
Using a fastball that barely broke 90 mph, Smeltzer went toe-to-toe with Brewers righty Zach Davies — a finesse righty in his own right — as each exchanged zeroes on the scoreboard.
Smeltzer’s outing wasn’t without serendipity, however. In the second, Yasmani Grandal tripled off the fence in center field on a play that sent Byron Buxton into the trainer’s room.
But Smeltzer bore down and got Mike Moustakas to strike out swinging, Jesus Aguilar to ground to third and Hernan Perez to fly to short to preserve the zero in the scoring column.
The Twins did the same in the next half inning, as Davies stranded Miguel Sano at second base after the slugger opened the inning with an opposite-field double.
Smeltzer again gave up an inning-opening extra-base hit in the fourth, as Ryan Braun doubled into the left-field corner. However, Grandal struck out looking and Moustakas hit a booming ball into right-center that Kepler — now in center to replace Buxton — made a leaping catch on at the wall.
Kepler lost the ball in the transfer, leading Braun to reverse course halfway between second and third, and in the process, fail to tag up when the second base umpire ruled that Kepler had indeed caught the ball. The Brewers challenged it, but to no avail.
Smeltzer was simply not to be deterred.
That was the extent of the turbulence that Smeltzer saw on the night, as that catch and the two outs that came with it were the first of eight in a row that the lefty set down to end his night — culminating with impressive swinging strikeouts of Lorenzo Cain and defending National League MVP Christian Yelich.
The numbers were all impressive for Smeltzer, who got 11 swinging strikes on the night — a terrific 15.9 percent swinging strike rate reminiscent of him clowning on batters at Pensacola to start the season.
While Smeltzer wasn’t able to hang on long enough to be credited with the win, there were better things yet to come — including Eddie Rosario hitting a two-run home run to give the Twins a 5-0 lead in the seventh inning.
First, manager Rocco Baldelli announced that Smeltzer would be staying with the team to make another start on the upcoming road trip.
Secondly, he got to celebrate with those closest to him about a debut he’d been dreaming of at least 15 years in the making:
As his father said on Fox Sports North to Marney Gellner during the game, “Don’t tell Devin he can’t do something; he’ll prove you wrong.”
- The Twins set a new record with 55 home runs in a month with Rosario’s seventh-inning blast.
- The Twins also have a record 117 extra-base hits in May. The old club record was 111 in August 2017.
- The Twins issued zero walks for the ninth time this season, the most in MLB.
- The win kept the Twins to 10 games up in the American League Central division — the largest lead in baseball.
- Smeltzer became the fourth Twin to throw six-plus shutout innings in their debut, joining Andrew Albers (8/6/13), Anthony Swarzak (5/23/09) and Eric Milton (4/5/98) on that list.