DETROIT – Sometimes it’s hard for a new pitcher to show what he can really do. He’s in a big city, pitching in a big stadium. The excitement from getting the call to the majors quickly gives way to nerves when it’s time to throw that first pitch.
That was not the case for Kohl Stewart on Sunday. For the first four innings, Stewart was a ground-ball inducer while a large cheering section of his family and friends could be heard shrieking after each out.
“I was really nervous leading up to the game,” he said. “When the game got started, I was fine. I felt like it was another start, and that’s how I tried to treat it. It was honestly a blast. I mean, you’re only going to do that once for the first time. I was having a lot of fun.”
He just needed to make a few more high-quality pitches.
Stewart’s major league debut was going fine until the fifth inning, when he lost one long battle, lost his focus for a moment, then was pulled from a game the Twins ended up losing 4-2.
The former fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft was charged with three runs over 4⅓ innings. He allowed eight hits, with one walk and one strikeout. But the Twins offense didn’t get a hit from the third through seventh innings, and Ehire Adrianza’s wrong decision while fielding a chopper led to at least one Tigers run.
“I thought for his first time he composed himself fairly well,” said Twins manager Paul Molitor, who plans to give Stewart another start. “He threw it over for the most part. Kind of, as reports indicated, not a lot of swings and misses.”
Through four innings, Stewart got nine of 12 outs through ground balls, including two double plays. He needed just nine pitches to get through the fourth. Only three balls had been hit out of the infield.
“I feel like I was executing my sinker early in the game,” Stewart said, “but there were some times where I probably needed to go to some off-speed and keep them off balance.”
The fifth inning was the unkind one. Stewart gave up three consecutive ground-ball singles. The third, by Jeimer Candelario, drove in a run to tie the score 1-1. Jose Iglesias then worked a 10-pitch at-bat before hitting a chopper to third base that Adrianza fielded and had time to step on third for a force play. Instead, he threw to first, and Iglesiasbeat it.
“Given the speed of the hitter and everything,” Molitor said, “[third base] was his best chance.”
A 3-1 pitch to Niko Goodrum missed the plate, forcing in a run to make it 2-1 and ending Stewart’s day. Victor Martinez’s sacrifice fly off Taylor Rogers made it 3-1.
That was enough to down the Twins, who had taken a 1-0 lead in the second when Mitch Garver tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly. Max Kepler hit his 15th homer in the eighth inning for the Twins, who averaged 2.4 runs during their 2-5 road trip.
Stewart said he learned that he has to alter his approach — change speeds —the third time through the batting order.
“When you get to the third time through a lineup,” Garver said. “You have to be able to do things that you hadn’t already done. And I think that’s what got us today.”