What a cool rookie prank the Twins played on Devin Smeltzer in his MLB debut. They hid their pitcher-crushing offense from him until after he made history.
Smeltzer, a lefthander who rose from Class AA to the majors in only eight weeks, made one of the most memorable introductions in Twins history Tuesday, shutting out Milwaukee on three hits over six innings. And once he departed to back slaps and high-fives, the Twins battered Milwaukee’s bullpen in their now-typical lightning-strike style. In the span of six batters, the Twins turned a scoreless pitcher’s duel into a five-run lead and eventually a 5-3 victory over the Brewers to split their two-game border battle at Target Field.
“That was awesome,” Smeltzer exclaimed after hugging a sizable portion of the announced crowd of 27,120, or at least the 21 friends and family members who rushed to Minnesota for the surprise occasion. “Just coming out of the ’pen, [taking] that walk and seeing all the fans at Target Field — I didn’t know what field I’d be at [when I was] dreaming as a kid, but this was definitely good.”
Smeltzer was better than good. The 23-year-old, who was languishing as a reliever in the Dodgers system until the Twins asked for him in last July’s Brian Dozier trade, became only the fourth Twins rookie ever to announce his presence in the major leagues with six or more shutout innings in his debut, joining Eric Milton, Anthony Swarzak and Andrew Albers. But Smeltzer allowed fewer hits (three), struck out more batters (seven) and issued fewer walks (none) than those rookies.
“He did everything he set out to do. He made good pitch after good pitch,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It was a really fun experience just watching him keep rolling out there, inning after inning, and getting the job done.”
But because Milwaukee righthander Zach Davies matched him zero for zero, Smeltzer is also the only one of the four rookies not to debut with a victory.
Once the starters were out of the game, though, the Twins celebrated Davies’ departure with rockets all over the ballpark. Max Kepler, the newly crowned AL Player of the Week, then broke the offensive silence with a double off the wall in right-center, driving in the night’s first two runs. Two batters later, C.J. Cron doubled to almost the same spot, scoring Kepler.
And with the crowd chanting “Ed-die, Ed-die,” Eddie Rosario blasted an 85-mph splitter from Junior Guerra over the seats atop the right-field wall, giving the Twins a five-run cushion, a lead big enough that late Milwaukee home runs from Keston Huira and Yasmani Grandal didn’t matter.
The crowd never chanted “De-vin, De-vin,” but if Smeltzer keeps pitching like that, there will be plenty of time. Baldelli said Smeltzer, who owned an 1.15 ERA in nine minor league starts for Pensacola and Rochester when he was called up to replace Michael Pineda, will make another start on the Twins’ 10-game road trip, probably next week in Cleveland.
The first inning was a striking example of Smeltzer’s ability to pitch without blow-you-away velocity. Smeltzer struck out Lorenzo Cain, with the All-Star outfielder reaching awkwardly for an 85-mph changeup on strike three. He retired reigning MVP Christian Yelich on a ground ball to shortstop, his final pitch the only one that pierced the strike zone. And he froze Ryan Braun with a 90-mph fastball near the bottom of the zone, recording his second strikeout.
In all, Smeltzer threw 17 pitches in his first big-league inning, 12 of them strikes, and three of them swing-and-misses. But only four pitches were actually in the strike zone.
“I joked with my wife [Brianne] after the game, ‘I think that’s the most calm I’ve ever been.’ I’m usually very high energy, kind of on the verge,” Smeltzer said. “Tonight, I felt like I’d done it a million times.”