There’s a pattern developing here.
Kenta Maeda made his Twins debut Sunday in Chicago, and his new teammates made sure it was a hit. Because they hit, using a Jake Cave first inning grand slam to help Maeda cruise to a 14-2 victory over the White Sox.
On Tuesday, righthander Homer Bailey made his Twins debut in their home opener. The Twins welcomed him to the team with five runs in the second inning of a 6-3 victory over the Cardinals.
There’s nothing like an early cushion to help a pitcher relax and throw strikes. Bailey did that, holding St. Louis to two runs over five innings to win his first start at Target Field.
Boy, Rich Hill has to be excited about taking the ball Wednesday.
“Often it helps to see a guy once, twice, three times through before you gain that comfort,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Our guys have gone out there ready to hit from the first pitch, and it’s been a very good thing for us, giving our pitchers those cushions. It’s important, it always is.”
The Twins had four hits in the pivotal inning, including a double by Miguel Sano and a two-run homer by Jorge Polanco.
“It’s not a surprise when you have this many weapons in your lineup,” Bailey said. “To give you the extra rest or get the opposing team on their heels and kind of knock down some of their momentum a little bit. As a starter you try to go out there and try to have that short inning and get these guys back in the dugout as quick as you can after your team puts up big innings like that.”
In five innings, Bailey gave up two runs on four hits and two walks with four strikeouts. His big mistake was giving up a two-run homer to Tyler O’Neil. But the longtime Reds starter limited big mistakes to one against a team he’s that has tormented him.
Bailey entered the game with the worse career numbers against the Cardinals than any other opponent. In his first 28 starts against St. Louis, he was 6-16 with a 5.80 ERA. A couple of the leading henchmen in most of those games were in the lineup Tuesday. Yadier Molina entered a career .400 hitter vs. Bailey — 20-for-50 — with three home runs. Matt Carpenter was batting .457 — 21-for-46 — with two homers against him.
One reason Bailey finally had success against the Cardinals is because he’s not the same Bailey they have kicked sand on through the years.
After he was traded from Kansas City to Oakland during the second half of last season, Bailey started using a split-fingered fastball more often. He went to it a lot during the second half with the Athletics and went 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA. Upon arriving with the Twins, he was told to stick with the splitter.
On Tuesday, 18 of his 80 pitches were splitters, according to Statcast. He got swinging strikes with three of them and called strike with another one.
Bailey walked a batter in each of the first two innings but stranded the runner each time. In the third, he struck out Harrison Bader and Kolten Wong and had two strikes on Tommy Edman when Edman got St. Louis’ first hit of the game, a double down the left-field line. Paul Goldschmidt battled Bailey to a full count before Bailey went to the splitter and got a strikeout on a foul tip to end the inning. The fourth inning was Bailey’s most efficient inning, as he needed just eight pitches to get three outs, including a double play on his first pitch to Molina, who went 0-for-4.
Combined with his slider and slow curve, Bailey had options to neutralize the Cardinals. He beat them for the first since May 23, 2014, in Cincinnati. In eight starts since then, he was 0-6 with 8.08 ERA before Tuesday.
“I’m going to enjoy this one a lot,” Bailey said. “It’s been a long time coming. I’ve got some familiarity with them. We came in with a great gameplan, and I knew that if I could go out and execute, with our offense’s potency, then we would get a win.
“Sometimes you just don’t look at history because it doesn’t really play in the present.”
La Velle E. Neal III has covered the Twins and Major League Baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998.