ATLANTA – It’s a radical idea, but maybe it’s time the Twins experimented with something new: How about letting Caleb Thielbar pitch the first inning? Nobody else seems able to do it.
The Randolph, Minn., native pitched for his lifelong favorite team Monday, giving the Twins two scoreless innings in his major league debut. But the game was all but decided by the time Thielbar jogged in from the bullpen because the Twins’ first-inning troubles cropped up yet again, dooming them to their sixth consecutive loss, 5-1 to the Braves in Turner Field.
Three consecutive Braves knocked one-out singles off Kevin Correia in the first inning, and Dan Uggla launched a two-out, three-run homer to put the Twins in a 4-0 hole before they had gotten comfortable with their National League surroundings.
At least they must be used to the feeling by now. The Twins have allowed 47 first-inning runs this season, more than any other MLB team has allowed in any other inning — only Houston’s 45 in the first are close — and Monday was the third time in the past four games the’ve fallen behind in the first.
“We’ll get it figured out. We have to,” Correia vowed after falling to 4-4, and 1-3 in May. “The opponents are scoring first almost every single game lately, and that’s tough on the offense.”
Julio Teheran was plenty tough, too. The 22-year-old righthander took a three-hit shutout into the ninth, having allowed only one Twin to reach third base and limited them to 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. A Josh Willingham blast 10 rows deep into the left-field stands, his first home run since April 29, broke up the shutout, but that’s all the offense the Twins could manage.
“Nice little breaking ball, good changeup, good fastball,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of the Braves’ rookie. “They jumped on us early, four quick ones, and he knew what to do with it.”
So did Thielbar, who didn’t find out he was a big-leaguer until noon Monday. He rushed to Atlanta, arriving just before game time, and pitched the seventh and eighth innings. He allowed a leadoff single to Andrelton Simmons, then retired the next six hitters he faced, three of them on strikeouts.
“I was nervous, there were some butterflies. But you’ve just got to tell yourself it’s the same game, 60 feet, 6 inches,” said Thielbar, who also became the first former St. Paul Saint to play for the Twins. “After my warmup pitches, I felt pretty good.”
Correia couldn’t say the same; for the first time this season, he said, he couldn’t find a pitch that was working, partly because he felt he was dragging his arm behind him on the delivery.
“I didn’t have command of pretty much anything,” he said. “I couldn’t keep the ball down.”
And he didn’t get much help from the offense. The Twins believed their run-scoring was emerging two weeks ago, when they went through a streak of six consecutive games of scoring five runs or more.
But while the weather has warmed up, the bats have gone cold once more; they have scored five runs only once in the past week, and have averaged just 2.5 runs in that time.