HOUSTON – Jose Berrios understood who he was up against on Monday in righthander Dallas Keuchel, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.
“When they showed the matchup, I said, ‘I have to compete a lot,’ ” Berrios said.
That wasn’t all for the rookie righthander. Keuchel was pitching at home, where he was 17-0 since the end of 2014.
And there was more. Jerry Layne’s strike zone was handkerchief-sized at times. Twins catcher John Ryan Murphy was ejected for using the wrong body language while asking Layne about balls and strikes.
Berrios dealt with it all adeptly, helping the Twins beat the Astros 6-2 for his first major league win.
“We win tonight and the confidence is going up again,” said Berrios. “So that’s what I want. For everyone to be happy and work together and [get] more wins.”
In 5 ⅓ innings, Berrios gave up two runs on three hits and five walks while striking out eight. The walks reflect how tough it was at times to find the plate. The strikeouts, however, reflected the top-shelf talent the Twins’ best pitching prospect has.
Every pitch he throws — his fastball, sinker, curveball and changeup — can be used to finish off batters. All were in play during a run in the middle of the game when he retired nine of 10 batters.
“When you have more than one out pitch, especially four out pitches, it is going to make it extremely difficult on an opposing hitter,” said Murphy, who was ejected in the fifth for questioning balls and strikes the wrong way, by turning around and looking directly at Layne.
Both teams struggled with the strike zone, but Berrios handled it better than Keuchel.
It took some time for Berrios to settle down. He threw 18 pitches in the first inning, then 23 in the second. Preston Tucker turned on a fastball in the second for a solo home run and a 1-0 Astros lead.
Keuchel struggled with command, and things unraveled on him in the fourth.
Brian Dozier was called out as he tried to beat out a chopper to short, but the Twins challenged the call and got it overturned. After Joe Mauer tapped out, Miguel Sano and Byung Ho Park walked to load the bases.
Eduardo Escobar hit an RBI single to left to tie the score 1-1. Eddie Rosario worked the count full before lofting a sacrifice fly to left to make it 2-1. Murphy walked, reloading the bases. Then, as Astros fans groaned in disbelief, Eduardo Nunez walked to force in a run and make it 3-1.
Park got a breaking ball up in the zone in the fifth and crushed it up Tal’s Hill in center for a two-run triple that made it 5-1. Keuchel was removed from the game at that point, after 97 pitches, only 51 of them strikes.
Berrios, just 21 years old, was able to pitch into the sixth inning and win what the Twins hope was the first of many games. Four Twins relievers finished up after Berrios left the game.
“It seemed like early in the game he fights himself trying to establish his various pitches,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “His ball-strike ratio wasn’t really good. It seemed like when we scored, it really energized him. He upped his game a little bit.”