SEATTLE — Brandon Kintzler didn’t do much on Thursday that was different from Wednesday. Maybe a couple more breaking balls, perhaps a little more change of location. But his 14 pitches in the first game were pretty similar to the 12 in the second. Well, except for the one that became a mammoth, game-winning home run.
“Just keep throwing the sinker,” Kintzler said of his strategy. “It was moving.”
It was, and on Thursday it preserved a 2-1 victory, just 24 hours after a bad one produced a painful 6-5 loss. “The fact that I can get in there the next day was huge,” the Twins’ closer said after racking up save No. 16. “You don’t want to sit around for a couple days and dwell on it. The guys gave me a chance, the team played really hard, and the last thing you want to do is let them down again.”
Kintzler admits he thought about his big mistake pitch to Mike Zunino a day later. “But if you dwell on it, you’re thinking about it on the mound the next time. And then it’s probably a three-run homer.”
Instead, he got two ground outs and finished with a flourish by striking out Boog Powell to end the game. “It was good to see,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “You’re always happy to get your closer out there after a little bit of a hiccup.”
The Twins start a three-game series in San Francisco tonight.
Buxton draws raves
The Twins went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position on Thursday, and the Mariners went 0-for-7. In those type of low-scoring games, Molitor said, defense frequently makes the difference. It certainly was in this Twins’ victory.
The game-winning run scored on some unexpectedly subpar defense by Robinson Cano, whose pair of errors on the same play allowed Ehire Adrianza to score from second on a ground ball.
Meanwhile, the Twins got sensational defense in a bunch of spots. Joe Mauer made a diving stop to turn a certain single into an out. Miguel Sano made a barehanded catch-and-throw to turn a chopper into an out. Taylor Rogers snagged a sure hit that would have tied the game in the eighth inning, and turned it into a double play.
And Byron Buxton may have saved the game with a spectacular running, diving, back-to-the-infield catch of a Cano laser just short of the warning track, a ball that would have otherwise tied the game.
"Oh yeah, I crushed that ball,” Cano said of his 375-foot line drive. “But I forgot it’s a guy that can run and jump out there.”
Seattle manager Scott Servais, whose team had won nine of ten, was even more impressed.
“He’s a special athlete,” Servais said of Buxton. “He’s as good as it gets in our game. As fast as [Seattle center fielder Jarrod] Dyson is in the outfield, Buxton’s strides are probably more like what Junior [Griffey] looked like running around here a few years ago.”
Molitor said it was a tougher play than it looked, because Cano hit it so hard, but so low. “That’s an easy misread, because the ball had a lot of carry but didn’t have a lot of height,” he said.
Then there was Rogers’ reflexive play, which turned an almost certain game-tying single into an inning-ending double play. Rogers somehow snagged the ball as it shot past, turned toward second and discovered Cano was standing halfway between second and third bases.
“How many times you see a pitcher make that catch?” Cano grumbled afterward. “Maybe one out of 50 times.”
Jason Castro (pictured above) has 11 hits in his last 10 games, a decent number, especially for a catcher. That they’ve been spread out over all 10 games, at least one every day, is pretty rermarkable.
“A hit a day, I’ll take it,” the veteran catcher said.
Three of his last five hits have been home runs, a power surge that has Castro optimistic about his offense.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good. I’d been hitting balls right at guys before,” Castro said after his home run staked the Twins to a lead they never gave up on Thursday. “The goal I’m trying to stay with is just not trying to do too much. I’m not over-swinging on some of my better balls, just trying to stay within myself.”
He did it well on a cutter against Christian Bergman. “He left it over the middle,” Castro said, “so I stayed within myself and put a good [swing] on it.”
It traveled 420 feet, landing in the right field seats. Which made his 0-fer in the other three at-bats not nearly as frustrating.
“I don’t think he’s hot. He’s doing better, he’s getting some good swings,” Molitor said. “He’s looking for pitches he can handle. There are some good signs there.”
Gibson turns it around
First pitch strikes were the key for Kyle Gibson’s best start of the season on Friday, but there’s another reason, too. Molitor said Gibson has used his curveball as an offspeed pitch lately, having rediscovered its effectiveness.
“I thought it was really good. They made a little bit of an adjustment because he was throwing that curveball over on first pitch, and a couple guys started looking for it,” Molitor said. “That curveball is really coming on. He used to be more slider [or] changeup for off-speed, but that curveball is being used more effectively. It’s a good pitch for him.”