SEATTLE – Luis Arraez watched Yusei Kikuchi’s curveball dip low and away, and he shook his head. Nope, nope. Next pitch, a fastball in the dirt, same thing: No. No.
Then Kikuchi tried a high fastball and instead of shaking his head, Arraez swung his bat. The rookie infielder sliced a line drive into right field, and headed to first base with his second major league hit.
“Every time I take a pitch that is a bad pitch, that [head shake] means I’m recognizing it’s not a strike,” Arraez said of his habit. “It’s just a mechanism for me that helps.”
He doesn’t seem to need much help with hitting. The 22-year-old minor league batting champion has impressed Twins manager Rocco Baldelli with his ability to square the baseball with his bat.
“He already has major league-quality at-bats,” Baldelli said of Arraez, who made his first start for the Twins on Sunday, one day after debuting with a double. “To see such a young guy go up there with such tremendous feel for the strike zone and for the barrel, it’s fun to see. You don’t see that level of maturity in the box from many guys that age.”
Arraez also shook his head at four pitches in the fifth inning, drawing his first walk. And he was involved in the oddest play of the game an inning later, when he hit a dribbler to Kikuchi. The pitcher fielded the ball and threw it to first base, but it hit Arraez in the back. The batter raced to second base, but home plate umpire Scott Barry called him out for interference, because he was running just inside the baseline to first.
“Luis didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just natural to run straight and try to touch the bag, which is all he did,” Baldelli said. “No one believes he was trying to interfere with anything, but the way the play developed, the call was right.”
For three years now, Kyle Gibson has spent every Sunday morning during the baseball season conducting chapel services for any players who want to attend. And for more than a year, when Gibson follows that responsibility by taking the mound, he’s been mostly successful.
Is there any connection?
“I don’t know that I’m any more inspired than any other day,” Gibson said with a laugh, “but I like the correlation.”
In his past eight Sunday starts, dating back to August 2017, the Twins had won all eight games, with the veteran righthander personally posting a 6-0 record and 3.88 ERA. But the streak ended Sunday, when he allowed back-to-back home runs and fell to 4-2 on the season.
“I wasn’t aware of the streak,” Gibson said. “But it seems like I do normally pitch on Sundays, on day games, and [with] rain delays. That’s the three boxes I check every time. I hit two of the three today, and I’ll get another one next Saturday.”
He’s right about the day games: Gibson has pitched 30 afternoon games over the past three seasons, more than any Twins starter, but he’s only 8-13 in those starts.
Tyler Duffey wasn’t even aware he was the winning pitcher when the Twins beat Seattle 18-4 on Saturday. After all, he entered the game with a 15-4 lead and faced only six batters.
“You don’t usually get a win with an 11-run lead,” Duffey said. “I didn’t even know until my wife told me. She was like, ‘Hey, you got a win.’ I guess I did. Just get the outs, and that’s what happens.”
It happened because Jose Berrios, who took the mound in the fifth inning ahead 15-0, threw 32 pitches that inning, ran his game total to 105 pitches, and still couldn’t get a third out. He was removed one out before reaching the five-inning requirement for a starting pitcher to earn a win, missing out on his seventh victory of the season. Duffey was summoned, he struck out Omar Narvaez to end the inning, then pitched a scoreless sixth, too. His reward: his first win since last September.
Berrios, meanwhile, ended the Twins’ streak of 28 consecutive games in which their starting pitcher had lasted at least five innings, their longest such streak since they had 42 straight in 2005.