There was no late, critical play involving C.J. Cron.
There was no bullpen implosion.
All there was on Wednesday night at Target Field was a solid pitching performance from starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi, backed up by a trio of his bullpen comrades in a 4-1 win. The win gives the Twins a chance to salvage a split on Thursday afternoon in advance of an Easter weekend series against the Baltimore Orioles.
Odorizzi gave up a serendipitous run early, but after that was spotless in lowering his season ERA to 4.76 before handing the ball off to Adalberto Mejia.
Offensively, the Twins picked up the slack right away, answering Toronto’s 1-spot in the top half of the first inning with a 2-spot of their own, with the lead never changing hands afterward.
Here’s what I saw:
The turning point
It was kind of a quiet game offensively for both sides, as the runs scored on the following plays:
- Single to center (Jays up 1-0)
- Single to right-center (Tied 1-1)
- Run-scoring double-play grounder (Twins up 2-1)
- Double which would have been a single against a normal outfield defense (Twins up 3-1)
- Single to left-center (Twins up 4-1)
The Nelson Cruz double came on a rocket he hit to left field with the Blue Jays outfield defense in an oppo shift. The ball nearly rolled to the wall, allowing Cruz to motor into second.
But either way, neither team had a particularly significant run-scoring play.
Odorizzi was magnificent
The first inning was a bit bumpy for Odorizzi — strike out swinging, single, sac fly to center, single to center and fly to center — but even that could have been avoided. It wasn’t a huge deal but could have been at the time, as it appeared Freddy Galvis was picked off first base but called safe.
Replay suggested Galvis may have been out, but rather than risk a challenge early in the game, the Twins opted to let things ride. Galvis tagged on a deep fly to center and then scored from second base on Justin Smoak‘s single.
But that was it for the Jays against Odorizzi. In fact, he didn’t allow a runner past first base after he allowed the run in the first inning.
He also had some hurdles to leap, including getting ready for a start that he wasn’t totally sure if, or when, it would start.
“I kind of have to prepare as if it’s a 6:40 game and kind of alter it from there,” he said. “I think I warmed up in here about three different times just to try to keep a normal schedule, but it’s tough. It’s always ever-changing, and then when we finally get a time, pretty much you’re already warmed up, so you kind of go through the last 10 minutes — or at least I do — and then just take it out there and go.”
It’s been a recurring theme for Odorizzi, who pitched in brutal weather in Philadelphia and New York on the recent road trip.
Maybe he’s the team’s designated “bad weather” pitcher?
“I’m the guy,” Odorizzi said with a laugh. “I’m the bad weather guy this year. It’s typically one guy every season that’s the crappy weather guy. But today was pretty good. I guess I could say I’ve learned from previous mistakes. It’s just go out there, mind over matter sort of a thing.
“With the rain, it was a little bit lighter than it was in Philly, so it was a little bit easier. But it’s a lot easier to deal with when you’re the home team and you kind of know what’s going on behind the scenes more so than when you’re on the opposite side.”
The bullpen got back on the bicycle in a big way
Odorizzi was lifted after 101 pitches in the sixth inning, and Mejia came on to get left-handed hitting Rowdy Tellez on two pitches to get the final out of the frame.
It wasn’t Mejia’s only inning, as he came back out for the seventh and got out of it by facing just three batters. There was a little help from his friends, however, as Brandon Drury singled to left but was doubled off when Billy McKinney‘s sizzling liner was snagged by Cron at first base. Cron stepped on the bag and Mejia went from down 2-0 in the count with a runner on first to out of the inning three pitches later.
“All the way around, our guys, everyone that we called on to come in, did nice work,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Mejia coming back, in particular, had a nice outing, came in and got some big outs for us and that’s exactly what we need.”
Mejia had been hit fairly hard in his most recent outing — the first game of the series — and so it was important for Baldelli to get him back out there on the mound, he said.
“I think it’s good for any pitcher, but any young pitcher in particular, to get right back out there,” he said. “I think anytime where it makes sense and the conditions kind of makes sense for that to happen, I think it’s a good idea to get him out there, get him throwing and he did the job.
“He went out there and threw strikes and put us in a spot to win a game. Those middle innings are important. Those are the innings, like I’ve said a couple of times, but we’re going to look to different guys and lean on guys at different times and this was Mejia’s night.”
The Twins needed to get to Trent Thornton quickly — and did
Thornton’s action is a bit funky, as he’s all arms and legs with pretty good stuff coming at the plate, but he struggled with command early and even was crossed up twice with catcher Luke Maile in the first inning.
It could have been worse, too, as the Rosario double-play grounder got him out of a no-out, runners-on-the-corners jam without any further damage than a 2-0 deficit in the first inning.
“I didn’t hear a ton of commentary in the dugout,” Baldelli said when asked if hitters in the dugout mentioned anything about Thornton’s quirky motion. “He’s probably a guy that brings a little deception to the table in addition to pretty good stuff. But I’m sure the delivery and the arm action certainly play in his favor.
“He did a good job for them. He battled on the other end through the entire game. I don’t want to speak for him, he’s not our player, but he kept them in the game as well. When there were points that you weren’t sure we were going to get to the bullpen or not.”
Jorge Polanco is unstoppable right now
Polanco reached base in three of his four plate appearances — single, double and a walk — and is now hitting an obscene .429/.484/.768 on the season.
Through 15 games, he’s already matched last season’s mark of 1.3 fWAR.
“Besides hitting in front of (Cruz), I think it’s a couple of things,” Polanco said. “Just being patient at the plate and swinging at good pitches. So things are working out for me right now.”
Cruz put it simply. “It’s great. He gets on base every at-bat. That’s always a positive, you know?” the veteran slugger said.
For what it’s worth, Polanco doesn’t recall the last time he was on fire like this.
“I think it’s a thing of patience,” Polanco said. “I’ve always been a hitter that likes to be patient, take good pitches, see the pitches. So that’s why things are working out for me.”
Notes & Quotes
- The Twins are 23-41 against the Blue Jays in the Target Field era (2010-present).
- Minnesota’s 9-6 start is its best since 2010 (11-4).
- Opposing batters are hitting just .172 with a .535 OPS against Odorizzi this season.
- The start of the game was delayed 50 minutes by rain.
- Polanco on hitting in front of Cruz: “Yeah, I like it. I feel comfortable, and he’s a respected hitter in the league. So it’s a good situation.”
- Baldelli on if this is how he envisioned the top of his lineup starting the season: “I’d say yeah. I’d say that’s definitely a big part of it. Both of these guys have had tremendous at-bats from day one. That’s what we were hoping to see, it’s what we know they’re capable of. It’s important to get that going, and then the rest of the lineup can follow and take advantage of their strengths. but it’s nice when your first two guys go up there and have competitive at-bats throughout the game, every game. It’s nice.”
- Odorizzi on a bumpy first inning before smooth sailing the rest of the way: “I thought I executed pitches the entire inning. Just the bloop single right there, can’t really be too mad at it. Executed a pitch. It was below the zone and just found some space. From the rest of the time on, it was pretty much the same as the first inning. Just keeping guys off base and making pitches when I had to, and I got some ground balls in situations where if it’s not raining, it’s probably a double play. That’s a really important thing for me, since I’m not typically a ground ball guy. If I can get the ball on the ground and get weak contact, that’s a big emphasis moving forward.”
- Cruz on Marwin Gonzalez breaking through offensively: “Yeah, he’s been around for a while. He knows what to do. I mean, he’s a great hitter, so it was only a matter of time to see him swing the bat the way he did.”