Tyler Duffey couldn’t find the strike zone in the first inning Monday night and eventually loaded the bases against Detroit. It was not the first time the Twins rookie righthander has been in a jam, and he had no thoughts of having a short night.
“If you think that, you shouldn’t be doing it,” Duffey said. “You get the bases loaded, and stuff like that is when you have to turn it on. Sometimes it’s fun to have those situations to give yourself a little check.”
The man likes danger. And he knows how to deal with it.
He induced a double-play ball from Victor Martinez to end the inning, then continued to put up a row of zeros after the Twins used a big first inning to beat Detroit 7-1 in the opener of a key 10-game homestand before an announced 17,833 at Target Field.
The Twins scored four runs in the first inning for the second game in a row, then knocked starter Kyle Lobstein (3-8) out in the second. Joe Mauer had three hits in his first three at-bats, and Eduardo Escobar hit his 11th homer.
The rout improved the Twins’ record against the Tigers to only 6-8, but the closing speed could change the season series. The Twins — sparked by a comeback from six runs down in the ninth inning July 10 — have won the past four games between the teams, outscoring Detroit 31-13 while doing so.
“Getting off the field after a rough start was really big,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “It picks the team up. And you come back and have a big inning.”
Five of the first six Twins reached base in the first against the lefthanded Lobstein. Trevor Plouffe doubled to right, scoring two runs. Torii Hunter reached on an infield single when Lobstein failed to cover first on a grounder scooped up by Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera, scoring Miguel Sano. And Kurt Suzuki added a run-scoring single to make it 4-0.
Sano’s RBI single in the second chased Lobstein from the game, then Escobar drove in Mauer with a single off Kyle Ryan to put the Twins ahead 6-0. Two innings later, Escobar added a solo home run, his 11th homer of the season.
It was a huge relief for Duffey, who made his first start since Sept. 6 as the Twins worry about the 24-year-old’s career-high innings load. He needed a GPS to find the plate in the first inning, missing on 12 of his first 16 pitches.
“It was kind of hit-and-miss in the bullpen,” said Duffey (3-1). “and the first inning I kind of got through it. I finally got settled in.”
There’s nothing like a big lead to encourage a pitcher to throw more strikes. Duffey needed only 12 pitches to strike out the side in the second inning, and ended up retiring nine consecutive Tigers hitters before giving up a single in the fourth. In 6⅓ innings, Duffey gave up one earned run on seven hits and two walks while striking out seven.
After a rough major league debut on Aug. 5 in Toronto, where he gave up six runs in 2⅓ innings against the major leagues’ highest-scoring team, Duffey has posted a 2.97 ERA over his next six starts.
The Twins could have given up on Duffey after his debut, but he is on a team that knows how to get over bad first impressions. Don’t forget, the Twins were swept in their season-opening series while being outscored 22-1 at Detroit. Look at where they are now: In the thick of the AL wild-card race, a game behind Texas, which in turn is a half-game behind Houston in the AL West after a 5-3 victory over the Astros on Monday.
“You trust the people who are developing [Duffey] and you trust the people who have watched him pitch in Triple-A,” Molitor said. “We didn’t get the glimpse the first time out of what people were saying. He certainly has responded and made those people somewhat prophetic in this guy’s ability to come up here and compete and make pitches.”