Ricky Nolasco on Friday night gave the Twins back-to-back quality starts for the first time since September 2014, but it wasn’t enough to pitch the Twins to victory.
Nolasco coasted into the eighth inning against the Rays, when he gave up three singles to yield the go-ahead run. Tampa Bay pitched out of jams in the eighth and ninth innings and won 4-2 at Target Field.
Nolasco, coming off a victory Sunday at Seattle, was left in the game facing Brad Miller with runners on first and third and two out in the eighth. Tampa Bay’s Taylor Motter was on third base instead of second because Max Kepler mishandled Hank Conger’s single for an error.
Miller is a lefthanded hitter, but Twins manager Paul Molitor elected to keep his lefthanded specialist Fernando Abad — and his 0.93 ERA — in the bullpen.
Nolasco got Miller to hit a grounder, but the ball went past a diving Brian Dozier at second for a run-scoring single. The run was ruled unearned.
That was all for Nolasco. In 7⅔ innings, Nolasco gave up three runs, two earned, on six hits with seven strikeouts.
The Twins loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning, but Kepler struck out on three pitches against Rays closer Alex Colome to end the threat. Tampa Bay gave him an insurance run when Logan Morrison homered off Brandon Kintzler leading off the ninth.
Colome hit Kurt Suzuki on a 1-2 pitch to start the bottom of the ninth. Byron Buxton struck out, but Eduardo Nunez singled to put the tying run on base.
But Colome recovered by retiring Joe Mauer on a line drive to left, then getting Brian Dozier to pop out to left on a 2-0 pitch.
Nolasco can spin a curveball with the best of them, but it doesn’t matter if opponents can focus on that pitch.
Friday, Nolasco filled up the strike zone with his fastball and slider too, which enabled him to put away hitters with the big hook. And it led to one of his better outings in a Twins uniform.
Nolasco gave up only two hits through the first five innings largely because he filled the strike zone with all of his pitches, allowing him to be unpredictable. He threw first pitch strikes to 10 of the first 17 batters he faced. Once he had the upper hand, he could choose from his entire arsenal. Most of the time it was a curveball that landed for a strike or was swung on and missed.
Nolasco made two regrettable pitches early. One was a fastball in the first inning to Evan Longoria that was pounded over the center field wall for a solo home run. The other was a curveball in the fifth that Steven Souza whacked into the left-field corner for a leadoff double. Souza eventually scored the tying run on a Mikie Mahtook’s sacrifice fly, sliding in just ahead of a strong throw by Buxton.
Molitor, before the game, pointed out that Nolasco’s fastball control needed to be better to make his curveball more effective.
“He needs to be able to use that pitch, especially if he can command it early,” Molitor said. “I think it puts it in the back of their minds that they just can’t be sitting on his offspeed stuff.”
And that’s what Nolasco did on Friday against the Rays.
Nolasco just needed some run support. Yet the Twins had a tough time against Rays righthander Jake Odorizzi, who gave up two third-inning runs but nothing else.