From the first pitch, Jake Odorizzi was an effective pitcher on Tuesday. That seems to be critical for the righthander.
By focusing on the first pitch of each at-bat, Odorizzi turned in one of his strongest performances of the season, pitching into the sixth inning and turning over a 3-2 lead to the bullpen.
“I’m happy with how today went overall, and stuff-wise, that was one of my top two outings, just the way I felt with all my pitches,” Odorizzi said after throwing 102 pitches, 67 of them for strikes.
Odorizzi, scuffling along with a 4.50 ERA in his first season with the Twins, had been victimized for much of the season by first-pitch aggressiveness. When opponents put the first pitch in play, they hit .489 against Odorizzi this season. The solution: Keep them from putting the pitch in play. Clearly aware of that tendency, 12 Pirates swung at the first pitch on Tuesday — and none collected a hit. Seven fouled pitches off, four swung and missed, and only Sterling Marte managed to involve the defense, hitting a fly ball that Eddie Rosario caught in the first inning.
“That’s just what their approach was. On the position players side, it’s just a good approach,” Odorizzi said. “I started to make good pitches early on, get some early-count outs. That’s all you’ve got to do.”
The rest of the time, Odorizzi mostly mastered the National League lineup. “He was sharp, just more crispness to his pitches,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “He didn’t seem to make those couple of big mistakes that have kind of been haunting him.”
He had one hiccup in the second inning, when David Freese singled, Josh Bell walked and Francisco Cervelli doubled, scoring Freese with the game’s first run. Bell scored on a ground out, but that was it for Pittsburgh’s offense against the 28-year-old righthander. Odorizzi retired 12 straight hitters, finally departing with two out in the sixth inning when back-to-back singles pushed his pitch count past 100.
“Just attacking, that’s the best way to describe what we were trying to do. Just attack,” said Odorizzi, who struck out nine, including all three batters in the fifth inning. “They put the ball in play, a lot of foul balls and whatnot, but you can’t get that unless you’re around the zone attacking, changing speeds. I thought controlling my split tonight was the difference-maker, between average outings and above-average outings.”
By doing so, Odorizzi, now 5-7, earned his first victory since July 8. “Individual wins are, whatever,” Odorizzi said. “Team wins is what we need, so as long as I can keep us in every game, give us a chance to win, that’s what’s important.”
The bullpen was strong, with Tyler Duffey retiring all four hitters he faced, including a two-out strikeout of Francisco Cervelli that stranded two of Odorizzi’s runners. Taylor Rogers gave up a double to Starling Marte but got two strikeouts, and that turned into a real jam when Matt Magill relieved him. David Freese hit an infield single and Josh Bell drew a walk, loading the bases with the go-ahead run on second.
But Magill got ahead of Cervelli, and even though the Pirates catcher managed to work the count to 3-2, Magill induced a threat-ending popup to Logan Forsythe at second base.
“The bullpen was able to pick [Odorizzi] up, get him off the field,” Molitor said. “Duff had a really nice, crisp at-bat” for the strikeout.
Molitor on Eddie Rosario, who moved from second to third base on a single to right, and seemed to stop — but suddenly sped up again and scored when the throw from right fielder Gregory Polanco wasn’t on line: “There were a lot of good things. We saw another Rosie base-running play. He was minus-two on the last trip, so we got one back.”