CLEVELAND – The Twins had a secret weapon for their first visit to the home of the three-time AL Central champs: A pitcher who hadn’t been scored upon and the Indians had never seen. And Devin Smeltzer delivered, allowing only five hits in his 6⅓-inning encore.
One problem: Four of those five hits disappeared into the Ohio night, landing in the left-field bleachers, the right-field grandstand, and the pine trees in straightaway center. Smeltzer surrendered four home runs while his own team provided him with only two, and the Twins’ quest to widen their lead over the Indians hit a snag at Progressive Field in a 5-2 loss.
Marwin Gonzalez and Eddie Rosario homered for the Twins, but Cleveland starter Shane Bieber held the rest of the lineup in check, helping the Indians move within 10½ games of the Twins with the victory, its second in four games with the Twins this year.
“He competed. He threw the ball well,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Smeltzer, who hadn’t allowed more than one homer in a game in more than a year, since last May in Class AA. “He made a few pitches that he probably would want back to some good hitters. But Smeltz should be very happy.”
Funny thing, though: He wasn’t. The 23-year-old lefthander was bothered by the three walks he issued, after allowing zero to the Brewers last week. That, he figured, he can and should control. The homers? Hey, these are big-leaguers. It happens.
“The hits, I’m not worried about. I know they left the yard, and that’s frustrating. … That can’t happen,” Smeltzer said. “I need to be in the [strike] zone. I nibbled a little bit and fell behind in counts, and that’s not who I am when that happens. With how I pitched, I get in trouble. If I’m in the zone, I think [Tuesday’s] a different night.”
Well, maybe, though only one of the walks cost him.
Smeltzer, whose six shutout innings against the Brewers last week was one of the best debuts in Twins history, looked nearly as sharp at the beginning of his second start. He retired seven of the first nine hitters he faced and appeared on cruise control again in the third inning.
Until Francisco Lindor came to the plate for a second time. Lindor, who walked to lead off the first inning, this time jumped on an 0-2 fastball from Smeltzer and lined it over the large wall in left. Smeltzer settled down and retired the next seven in a row, then walked Leonys Martin with two outs in the fifth on a 3-2 fastball that might or might not have caught the inside corner.
“I was just missing a little bit, and it’s a big-league strike zone,” Smeltzer said. “It’s not the minors anymore. I’m not going to get away with that.”
That might have been Smeltzer’s biggest mistake, because it brought up Lindor again with a tie score. It wasn’t tied for long.
This time it took only one pitch, a changeup the All-Star shortstop smashed more than 400 feet over the wall in left-center.
“We just went 0-0 changeup, and it was pretty obvious he was sitting on that pitch,” Smeltzer said. “I thought it was a half-decent pitch, and he caught it.”
Again, Smeltzer shook off the trouble, using a double play to wipe out a stray walk. But Robert Perez launched a ball over the center-field fence to disrupt Smeltzer again, and the next batter, Jake Bauers, pulled one into the seats in right, ending Smeltzer’s oddly quiet-yet-loud, good-but-bad night.
Will Smeltzer’s next start be in the big leagues? Baldelli said he and his staff will discuss it Wednesday. “We’re also going to see how Big Mike [Pineda] is doing,” since Smeltzer took the veteran righthander’s spot in the rotation when Pineda went on the injured list because of tendonitis. “We’ll have an answer for everyone pretty soon.”
Bieber allowed five hits over seven innings, and his mistakes, too, were loud ones. Gonzalez hit his seventh homer of the season in the second inning, and Rosario hit his 18th in the sixth. But the Twins never generated any additional offense.