The Twins have drawn fewer walks than any team in the majors. But that doesn’t mean they can’t still weaponize the free pass when necessary.
They managed only five singles against Tigers pitching Saturday, but they bunched three of them in one inning, added three walks for fuel, and touched off a four-run inning that carried them to a 4-3 victory over Detroit at frigid but snow-free Target Field.
“We went up there looking for good pitches to hit, but when we had the opportunity to maybe take a few pitches and draw that inning out, we did. We didn’t expand the [strike] zone,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I commend our guys for that.”
The Twins drew a season-high seven walks against Tyson Ross and four Detroit relievers, but it was the first two — back-to-back walks to Jonathan Schoop and Jason Castro to open the third inning — that ignited the Twins’ lone scoring outburst of the day and helped them overcome Detroit’s early 2-0 lead. Byron Buxton followed by slapping a single past two diving Tigers infielders to drive in Schoop, giving Buxton four RBI on the season — or exactly as many as he had in all of 2018.
Max Kepler lined a single to right, loading the bases, and Jorge Polanco hit a sacrifice fly, bringing home Castro to tie the score. After Nelson Cruz drew the inning’s third walk, loading the bases once more, Eddie Rosario hit a sharp single to right, scoring two more runs to give the Twins a 4-2 lead.
“[Ross] threw me a cutter inside in the first inning, and I hadn’t seen it before. I hit a ground ball to first base and said, ‘This guy, I want to try to hit it to the middle, to center field,’ ” Rosario said after his third multi-RBI game in a week. “I had a big opportunity. When I saw the bases loaded, I felt better when I went to home plate and tried to get a couple of RBIs for the team.”
Rosario had another bases-loaded chance in the seventh inning but hit a flyout deep to center field against Victor Alcantara, and the Twins never added to their four-run eruption, not against a Tigers bullpen that has been among the league’s best so far.
It didn’t matter, though, because Michael Pineda was avoiding the trap that Ross couldn’t: walks. The Twins righthander gave up eight hits but didn’t walk a batter and limited Detroit to three runs over six innings. If not for umpire Chris Guccione, it probably would have been only one run, too.
But it wasn’t Guccione’s calls that cost Pineda, it was his swiftness. Or lack thereof.
After giving up back-to-back singles to open the third inning, Pineda induced JaCoby Jones to hit a sharp grounder toward Schoop near second base. Before it could reach the infielder, however, it struck Guccione as he tried to dive out of the way, turning a rally-killing double play into a bases-loading single. Josh Harrison followed with a sacrifice fly that might otherwise have been the third out, and Jeimer Candelario singled, driving in another run.
“One hundred percent, it’s a double play. But I don’t have control of the situation,” Pineda shrugged after improving to 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts with the Twins. “After that, just try to keep being focused.”
Pineda did, giving up only an upper-deck blast to Christin Stewart in the sixth inning, and in doing so he impressed his manager. “He didn’t let that get to him. The ball off the umpire happens, there’s nothing we can do,” Baldelli said. “Big Mike just continued to do his job, and truthfully, that adversity and overcoming it is a great sign.”
The game was played before a reasonably sized crowd, given the mid-30s temperatures and snow on the ground just outside the gates. Announced attendance was 16,484, though the number of fans in the ballpark was probably half that, and the upper decks were closed.