DETROIT – Love it or hate it, it is a strategy that is likely here to stay. And the Twins are having some success using it.
For the sixth time this month, the Twins opened a game with a reliever and had the starter — the so-called “primary pitcher — following after one or two innings. The past two attempts have been extremely effective, including Wednesday’s 8-2 victory over the Tigers.
Lefthander Stephen Gonsalves entered in the second inning and picked up his first major league victory, throwing six innings of one-hit baseball, as the Twins swept an opponent on the road for the first time since July 23-25 at Toronto.
Gabriel Moya started the game and was a little shaky, putting two on with one out in the first before getting Mikie Mahtook to ground into an inning-ending double play. As a welcome gift for Gonsalves, the Twins offense scored four runs in the second, so he took over with a comfortable lead.
“That definitely felt good,” Gonsalves said. “First inning I would say is the worst. It’s just coming in, straight jog from the bullpen, kind of feeling it out. But after that first inning, it felt good.”
Called up Aug. 19, the rookie lefthander needed six “starts” for his first win — and an obligatory beer shower.
“Got it out of the way,” he said. “It was amazing. It’s a dream come true.”
With Addison Reed adding a scoreless eighth, the Twins took an 8-0 lead into the ninth before the Tigers tagged Alan Busenitz with two runs to break up the shutout.
Ehire Adrianza, playing with a sore left shoulder, was 3-for-4 with two doubles; Robbie Grossman was 3-for-5 with two runs scored; and Willians Austudillo drove in three runs.
Before Wednesday, Gonsalves (1-2) pitched in five games as either the starter or the primary pitcher. His longest outing had been five innings in a loss to Oakland. He lowered his ERA from 9.39 to 6.75 Wednesday.
The Twins are now 3-3 when using the OPP — opener/primary pitcher — strategy. Using an “opener” is designed to combat the first inning ERA of 4.58 — highest of any inning — but so far, Twins openers have a 6.30 ERA in the first. However, the past three times they’ve done it, the opener has pitched a scoreless first, all by Moya.
Twins manager Paul Molitor joked Monday that Moya likes the role because he can hang out in the clubhouse for eight innings afterward.
“In terms of a guy who really loves to pitch, you can see it in how he takes the mound and his antics,” Molitor sad. “I don’t think he’s overwhelmed by having to go out there and try to get you the first inning or two. Stuff wise he can get lefties and righties out, so that’s why he’s an appealing choice when we go that route.”
The “primary” pitchers used by the Twins in those six games have an ERA of 1.98, and indications are they likely will use the strategy next season. Molitor hasn’t fully bought in, yet.
“It hasn’t been enough [proof] for me,” he said. “I’ve done more thinking about the logistics of it: when it’s right to just have a guy maybe only pitch one inning regardless if he goes 1-2-3 trying to get one inning instead of two innings … But it’s kind of fluid in terms of making those decisions early in the game. You have to be ready for different scenarios the best you can.”