SEATTLE – If Michael Pineda is going to give up nothing but solo home runs, the Twins are probably OK with that. They are getting pretty good at winning the power game.
Pineda allowed the bottom three hitters in the Mariners lineup to connect for home runs, and the former Seattle All-Star has now given up the third-most homers in baseball. But Pineda didn’t allow any other batter to reach third base over his seven innings, while the Twins clobbered four homers of their own, a couple with runners on base, to build a big lead. The result was a pinball game worthy of two of the three most power-laden teams in the majors: 11-6 Twins to open a seven-game West Coast road trip.
“Big Mike did a great job. He went deep, he threw strikes, he had that good slider we talked about,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Pineda, who induced 14 swing-and-miss strikes and whiffed six batters in the team's third consecutive victory. “Truthfully, he had good life on his fastball, too. He commanded the ball very well. It was a great start.”
Jason Castro and Max Kepler got the Twins on the board first against Seattle righthander Erik Swanson, each connecting on a first-pitch fastball in the third inning. But the Twins got serious about roughing up Swanson in the fourth, putting together a seven-run inning, their most productive of the season.
“There’s a contagious, positive energy that goes on, where you step to the plate and you are truly believing that you are going to get on base,” Baldelli said of the big inning. “It’s something that happens when you have a good group.”
The big blows: A two-run cannonshot by C.J. Cron that traveled more than 450 feet into the far reaches of T-Mobile Park’s upper deck in left-center, and a three-run blast over the center field wall by Byron Buxton, knocking Swanson out of the game. Thanks to a dropped fly ball by center fielder Mallex Smith, the Twins loaded the bases again and Miguel Sano batted with a chance to cap the Twins’ first 11-run inning in a quarter-century. But Sano bounced into a forceout to end the inning.
Still, it was an upbeat, if not perfect, night for the Twins’ two large Dominicans who are coming back from serious injury. Pineda, in his first year back from elbow ligament surgery, ended a streak of five consecutive starts in which the Twins lost, and like his last one, the only runs he gave up came on a trio of solo homers. Pineda has surrendered 13 homers this year — only the Orioles’ David Hess and the Angels’ Trevor Cahill, with 14 apiece, have given up more — but 10 have been solo shots, and the other three with a runner on first base.
In fact, Pineda’s mistakes are almost always the painful-but-not-devastating variety: Only one of the past 38 homers against him, dating back to Aug. 22, 2016, came with more than one runner on base.
“Mike’s buckled down pretty well when there have been guys on base. He’s also going to throw strikes when there’s no one on base,” Baldelli said. “There are going to be times when he’s going to challenge some hitters, so there might be some things like that.”
The lack of serious damage didn’t seem to be much consolation for Pineda, however. “Everybody I’m facing, I try to execute my pitches. I don’t know, the last couple of games, they’re getting contact and it’s homers,” Pineda said. “I need to work a little bit more to try and execute more of my pitches and not give up a homer.”
Tyler Duffey, who took over for Pineda in the eighth inning, immediately made the mistake that Pineda rarely does. After allowing back-to-back hits by Mitch Haniger and Edwin Encarnacion, Duffey served up a high fastball to Seattle cleanup hitter Daniel Vogelbach, who pounded it into the seats in right-center and cut the Twins’ lead to four. But Duffey retired the next five hitters he faced to end the game.
Meanwhile, Sano’s 2019 debut with the Twins, delayed by a lacerated right foot he suffered in late January, was mostly uneventful — but in a good way. The third baseman took a series of ground balls before the game, and looked agile and athletic in the field.
“We’ve all been waiting for this. … It’s highly anticipated in a lot of ways,” Baldelli said before the game about Sano’s arrival into a lineup already stacked with power hitters. “Miguel is going to play. He’s going to be a regular. We’re going to see his name in the lineup a lot.”
That figures to only add to the Twins’ run production. At the plate, Sano grounded out twice, struck out once and delivered a pair of doubles. The first hit was a sinking liner during the Twins’ seven-run uprising, a ball that could have been caught but was misplayed into a double by left fielder Domingo Santana. But the second one was a sharply hit line drive into the left-field corner, driving in his first run of the season, and the Twins' 11th of the night.
“I’m excited to be here with my teammates and play in Seattle. It’s a great moment for me and my family,” Sano said. “I tried to make good contact and I got two doubles. I tried to put the ball more in play. It was a great moment for me.”