DETROIT – Ricky Nolasco’s 2015 season began on a Wednesday in Comerica Park. As far as the Twins were concerned, it was this one.
Five weeks to the day after his actual debut, Nolasco finally looked like the pitcher his new manager was expecting. There were no blowup innings, no sudden loss of command, no elbow pain and, but for a bobbled double-play grounder, there might have been no runs, either. The Twins, meanwhile, battered Tigers rookie lefthander Kyle Lobstein with extra-base hits and coasted to a 6-2 victory.
“It was a step forward. His confidence in his pitches was obvious,” manager Paul Molitor said after recording his first victory in Detroit. “The fact that he wanted to stay out there to the very end, he’s got to feel good about the step he took today.”
All of the Twins do, actually. It’s the first time in five games here this season that the Twins have scored more than one run, and they did it in memorable ways. They piled up extra-base hits, chased another lefthanded starter and got some clutch work from the bullpen.
It started with Torii Hunter, who did to the Tigers what he already had accomplished 10 other times in his career, nine of them against the Twins: victimize a former team with a home run. Hunter slammed a low cutter from Lobstein into the Tigers bullpen in left field in the first inning, giving him the Twins’ home-run lead with six, and the team a quick 1-0 lead.
Then in the third, Joe Mauer and Trevor Plouffe achieved something no Twins have done since 2011 by hitting back-to-back triples, Mauer’s coming with the bases loaded. That broke open the game, and when Kurt Suzuki followed with a double, the Twins owned a 6-0 lead. That’s three times as many runs as they had scored in their past five games combined in Comerica Park, so the 27,163 witnesses were understandably stunned.
“We’re swinging the bats real well,” said Nolasco, who has three victories this season despite a 6.38 ERA largely because of the Twins’ generous run support. Nolasco has had 17 runs with which to work in his four starts, or three more than the Twins have provided for Kyle Gibson, who has pitched 25 more innings.
“A six-spot that early, it’s pretty nice,” Nolasco acknowledged.
The Twins didn’t score again (though Brian Dozier added another triple in the ninth inning, making this the Twins’ first three-triple game since Denard Span collected three himself in 2010), but it was unnecessary. Nolasco and five Minnesota relievers took care of that. Michael Tonkin worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, Blaine Boyer got two quick outs to close out the eighth, and Glen Perkins made quick work of the ninth.
Considering Nolasco surrendered six runs in only three innings here last month, then spent three weeks on the disabled list because of elbow inflammation, it was potentially a breakthrough night for the 32-year-old righthander. He allowed only three hits through the first five innings, and didn’t allow an earned run.
Still more work to be done, though, he pointed out.
“I obviously want to do better than that, go deeper in the game,” Nolasco said after pitching 5 ⅓ innings, his longest outing so far this year. “I wasn’t efficient. I’m not going to be happy walking two or three guys. I’ll take it for now. I’ll take it [as] steps in going where I want to be.”