DETROIT – Baby steps. The Twins’ goal for Thursday should be to put a runner on third base.
They haven’t done something that audacious for the past 27 innings they’ve played, including all 18 this season, so forget about scoring. These days, the Twins can’t get more than halfway there.
The Tigers thrashed Minnesota 11-0 on Wednesday and, to be fair, the lack of hitting might not have been the Twins’ biggest problem. Their defense was mistake-prone and their pitching was mostly awful, but all of it was overshadowed by their incredible hitting drought. The Twins have shattered their franchise record of scoreless innings to open a season — it had been 11, back in 1988 — by getting shut out in the first two games, and if you count the finish of the 2014 season, they haven’t scored in their past 28 innings.
No wonder Torii Hunter, after watching his new team play punchless and sometimes pointless baseball for two games, made such a gloomy observation afterward. “I definitely think,” he said in the clubhouse, “that we’ve got 160 games to go.”
Oh, wait — he meant that’s a good thing.
Well, perhaps it will be, and the Twins were adamant they aren’t discouraged or disheartened, and certainly not panicked, by the lousy start. They’re not going to face David Price or Anibal Sanchez every day, right?
“Let’s not get carried away and have a dark cloud over our clubhouse. It’s two games,” said Jordan Schafer, proud owner of the Twins’ lone extra-base hit this season; his leadoff double in the sixth inning merely meant he was left stranded on second base, not first. “Obviously we’d like to start better, but that’s the way the ball’s going right now. Everything is fine, it’s perfectly fine. We’ve just got to put better at-bats up there, make a few plays, and we’ll be all right.”
More at-bats like the Tigers’, in other words. Detroit has outhit the Twins 25-9 in two games, drawn nine walks to Minnesota’s two, and gone 9-for-29 with runners in scoring position. Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias, who missed all of last season because of fractured shins, has six hits already, only three fewer than Minnesota’s entire roster. Iglesias went 4-for-4 with a walk Wednesday, a handy way to spark an offense considering Alex Avila, hitting directly in front of him, got on base four times as well, three of them on walks.
The Twins, meanwhile, were just happy that it didn’t take five innings to break up the perfect game, like it did Monday against Price. Sanchez, though, allowed only three balls to leave the infield in the first five innings, and induced five harmless popups. “Early in the game, the ball kept going straight up,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “Sanchez is a good pitcher, but I thought we had some good pitches to take whacks at early. We just didn’t square them up. And then once you get a lead, he just kind of settled in and made it look easy from there.”
It looked much more difficult for Twins starter Ricky Nolasco and the relievers who followed him. Hoping to put his awful 2014 season behind him, Nolasco gave up six runs, walked four batters and recorded only nine outs.
“I got into a bad situation, made a bad pitch, and the balls fell in for them,” said Nolasco, who wasn’t helped by Trevor Plouffe diving over the top of a ball that wound up a double, nor by Hunter’s inability to reach a ball that scooted to the wall for a triple. “In the end, I didn’t give us a chance to win. … I’ve got to bounce back.”
So does the entire team, and Molitor said he’s mindful of the fact that their failures against two All-Star pitchers are magnified by the fact it’s the season’s first two games. Like former Twin Mike Redmond two years ago in Miami, he’s opened his managerial career by being shut out in the first two games. But he’s also made a point to try to keep the pressure off his hitters.
“You just remind them to relax and have fun, have good at-bats and hopefully things will start to flow,” Molitor said. “You hope that the guys with some experience are smart enough to realize it’s just a small sample size. You get 500-600 at-bats [in a season], and you’re talking seven or eight at-bats for these guys. You don’t want to get too crazy too early. … You’ve got to keep grinding. Every day we’ve talked about, no matter what happens — win, lose, play well, play poorly — you’ve got to come back and be ready and have a fresh attitude the next day.”