ARLINGTON, TEXAS – Tampa Bay frequently has used an “opener” — a relief pitcher to pitch the first inning or two before a “starter” replaces him — and has one of the best first-inning ERAs in the league as well as a strong staff ERA overall.
The Twins used an opener for the first time Sunday … and Chris Gimenez ended up pitching, again.
The catcher, who made six appearances on the mound for the Twins in 74 games last year, was their seventh, and final, pitcher during an 18-4 trouncing by Texas that made a shambles of the pitching strategy. The Rangers set a club record with 13 extra-base hits while slugging four home runs. The combination of humid weather and the vapor trails created by baseballs rocketing throughout Globe Life Park made for a long afternoon for the visiting team.
The Twins could point to some success though. Gabriel Moya didn’t work out as the opener, issuing a walk before giving up a two-run homer to Elvis Andrus in the first inning. But newly recalled Zack Littell posted three scoreless innings before giving up an unearned run in the fifth — on a grounder that both second baseman Logan Forsythe and right fielder Max Kepler misplayed — and leaving after a two-run homer by Robinson Chirinos in the sixth.
“It didn’t go great in the fact that we gave up a two-run homer in the first,” manager Paul Molitor said. “I thought, other than that, we got a nice job from Zack for the most part. He threw the ball well and got us into the middle innings at least before the two-run homer. And things just fell apart.”
That’s because Texas scored nine runs in the sixth inning, taking a 12-0 lead. The Rangers hit three homers in the inning, each off a different pitcher. Texas added a run in seventh and five more on six hits off Gimenez in the eighth. The 18 runs were second only to the 19 the Twins gave up to the Rays on July 14.
While the opener experiment didn’t lead to a victory, the Twins are committed to trying it over the last month of the season. The have opener days scheduled three times over the next six games, including Tuesday in Houston.
“As far as moving forward, there are going to be more people to get opportunities in those situations,” Molitor said. “We just have to keep trying to find the right guy to get the game started and on a good note.”
Matt Belisle, just activated from the disabled list, replaced Tyler Duffey as the third of four Twins pitchers in the sixth inning. Debuting a new arm angle, Belisle hit Adrian Beltre and was ejected by umpire Alan Porter.
“I think the umpires thought there was history between our teams,” Molitor said. “Didn’t make any sense to me, and the aesthetics of the three-home run inning. I can tell you we had no intent to hit Beltre and it certainly wasn’t on our radar.”
Porter, who warned both benches, likely was referring to a June 23 game at Target Field in which Texas’ Jurickson Profar was hit by pitches three times.
“He was thinking it had to do with some history, he mentioned, which I had completely forgot about,” Belisle said. “But it was completely unintentional and the Rangers know it too.”
Addison Reed gave up a run in the seventh then, as he left the field, was ejected after telling Porter it was wrong to eject Belisle.