It’s been a year since the Twins last faced Justin Verlander, someone they regularly saw three or four times a year for a decade. They’re pretty sure he hasn’t changed much — unless he’s gotten better.
“He’s better now than he was a couple years ago,” Twins manager Paul Molitor agreed. “No disrespect intended, but I thought there was a stretch there where he became a little bit more mortal. He’s picked it up the last couple of years.”
Tonight, however, will be the first time the Twins have faced the 2011 MVP as a Houston Astro. Molitor knows what to expect.
“He seems to have another level when he needs it, and there’s not a lot of guys who can do that,” Molitor said. “He can hang on to velocity, he can sustain it late in the game. His ability to make pitches, it’s impressive. He’s one of those guys who has enough weapons, you can’t hit them all. [You have to] get in some hitter’s counters and hopefully you guess right once in awhile.”
Verlander is 17-9 with a 3.15 ERA in 34 career starts against the Twins, and he’s even better at Target Field: 6-1 with a 2.74 ERA in 10 starts.
But the guy Molitor is focused on is his own starter, Lance Lynn. The big righthander allowed five runs in his first start of the season one week ago in Pittsburgh, and Molitor has a hunch that the follow-up will go a lot smoother. “We believe in Lance, that he’s been an upgrade for us. [In his] first start, command was a little bit of an issue,” the manager said. “I’ve got a good feeling about what he’s going to be able to do for this team this year. I’m sure he’s a little bit anxious to go out there and get after it again after the first start didn’t go particularly well.”
It’s expected to be 35 degrees at first pitch, and headed down from there, yet another game played in adverse conditions. A visit by the reigning world champions would normally be an occasion for some big crowds and a lot of attention paid to the series, but the weather appears to be preventing that. Still, the Astros are 8-2 and look awfully fearsome.
“They’ve got pretty much everything you would want in a baseball team,” Molitor said. “But whatever happens these three games is not going to be an overly large indicator of the direction of either of the two teams.”
Here are the lineups for tonight’s game, the first of three: