CLEVELAND – This time, Jose Berrios attacked.
Hitters were challenged. Strikes were thrown with conviction. Rally squirrels were ignored. Berrios pitched like someone who didn't want to throw another pitch in the minor leagues.
Berrios delivered the best major league performance of his young career in his 2017 Twins debut, going 7⅔ innings and propelling the Twins to a 4-1 victory over Cleveland on Saturday at Progressive Field.
The outing enabled the AL Central-leading Twins, winners of four in a row and a season-best five games over .500, to imagine what every fifth day could look like with their top pitching prospect on the mound.
"You have to be excited about the performance we received from him," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "The kid got a lot of attention. One, about his potential and, two, the difficulty he's had making the transition up here."
Berrios held the Indians to one run on two hits and a walk with four strikeouts thanks to a come-and-get-me fastball around 93-95 miles per hour that hitters could not handle.
He mixed in a breaking balls and changeups when he needed to. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 27 batters he faced.
"That was the plan," Berrios said. "Attack the hitters with my fastball every time, then use my secondary pitches."
Cleveland had one runner reach scoring position over the first seven innings, when Carlos Santana hit a two-out triple in the third on a ball that Byron Buxton nearly caught while ramming into the center-field wall. Santana scored on Berrios' wild pitch for the game's first run.
Berrios walked Francisco Lindor but struck out Michael Brantley to end the inning. That was the first of 13 consecutive batters retired by Berrios, who averaged 17.3 pitches over the first three innings but used only 12 in the fourth, 12 in the fifth, eight in the sixth and nine in the seventh.
"That was my best fastball command," Berrios said. "I learned from the bad outings last year, and the good outings I got confidence from."
The Twins had no hits against Cleveland righthander Mike Clevinger until the fourth, when they scored three runs to take the lead. Max Kepler made it 4-1 in the sixth with a home run. The Twins have homered in 14 consecutive games, their longest streak since 1988 and two shy of the club record.
The bottom of the sixth was delayed about five minutes when a squirrel entered from right field with two outs, ran across the diamond, moved behind home plate, then sat just inside the third base line as fans roared.
"I still can't figure out how long they were going to let that thing roam around out there before someone tried to do something," said Molitor, who asked umpire CB Bucknor to get someone on the case.
Finally, grounds crew members chased the squirrel into the stands. Berrios got Brantley to pop out to end the inning. He followed with a 1-2-3 seventh and came out for the eighth, hitting a batter before getting two outs and giving way to Taylor Rogers for the final out. Brandon Kintzler pitched the ninth for his 10th save and third in as many days.
It was the Berrios that many Twins have seen in the minors, not the one who was 3-7 with a 8.02 ERA in 14 starts last season in the major leagues.
"It was just a matter of time," Kepler said. "He's got some of the best stuff. I have faced him and he is electric. It's all about the mentality and how confident you are."