CLEVELAND – Indians righthander Trevor Bauer caught the ball from his catcher, Roberto Perez, in the fourth inning on Saturday with a snap of the wrist, emphasizing that he had just struck out the Twins’ Max Kepler.
Unfortunately for Bauer — and fortunately for the Twins — the damage had already been done.
Kepler catapulted Bauer pitches in the first and second innings into the seats in right-center field, sending the Twins on their way to a 6-2 victory over the Indians.
Kepler extended his ownership of Bauer as he became the first player to homer off the same pitcher five times in the same season.
“It’s amazing,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It’s unfathomable that it is happening in front of our eyes.”
Cleveland’s Bobby Bradley hit his first major league homer in the seventh inning, a 457-foot shot off of Tyler Duffy, as the Indians crept within 3-2. But the Twins got a two-run double from Jake Cave in the eighth and a sacrifice fly from Marwin Gonzalez in the ninth to provide a cushy lead.
The Twins have won the first two games of the three-game series against the American League Central rival and send Jose Berrios to the mound on Sunday with a chance to sweep.
In this second win Kepler, who has twice hit three home runs in games at Progressive Field, took aim at one of baseball’s craftier pitchers again.
On June 6 at Progressive Field, Kepler hit home runs in his first three plate appearances against Bauer. With the homers on Saturday, Kepler tied Carlos Delgado and Frank Howard as the only players in the expansion era to hit home runs in five consecutive at-bats against the same pitcher.
Delgado and Howard, however, did it over two seasons. And Bauer isn’t the easiest pitcher to study. On Saturday, he threw a four-seam fastball, a two-seam (sinking) fastball, a cut fastball, a change up, a slider and a knuckle curve. That’s a lot for a hitter to study.
“I just go up there,” Kepler said. “Every pitch is the same to me. I have the same approach against every pitcher. Of course, you study their stuff when you have time to see what the ball can do. Just try to simplify and go up there and try to make contact.”
Leading off the first inning, Kepler got a 1-0 fastball from Bauer and launched it into the seats.
Cave led off the second with a homer, giving the Twins a 2-0 lead. Kepler came to the plate two batters later. This time, Bauer started him off with a knuckle curve for a strike. Bauer tried to repeat the pitch, but Kepler lifted it to the same area of the seats for a 3-0 Twins lead.
Kepler is now batting .361 against Bauer in his career with five home runs and nine RBI. And his second homer gave him 79 for his career, passing Mike Blowers to become Germany’s all-time leading home run leader. Kepler was born in Berlin.
Bauer (8-7) gave up three runs over six innings on six hits and three walks while striking out 11. Twins righthander Jake Odorizzi, activated from the injured list after recovering from a blister on his middle finger, held Cleveland to one run over 5⅓ innings while improving to 11-4. The Twins increased their lead over Cleveland to 7½ games.
“We knew this was a big series right out of the break and it could go one of two ways and so far it’s going our way,” said Odorizzi, who was named to the All-Star Game roster but couldn’t play because of the blister. “I just want to go out and perform my best after having a little bit of a break. I’ve been here [in Cleveland] for like a week now so the least I could do is try to get a win for the team.”