For Thursday’s Opening Day, some of loudest cheers at Target Field during the Twins’ pregame introductions were for Willians Astudillo, who has become a fan favorite despite having played in only 29 major league games.
Astudillo made his season debut with authority Sunday, going 2-for-2 with two doubles, two RBI and two runs scored in a 9-3 victory over Cleveland
The starting catcher, Astudillo hit the first pitch he saw from Carlos Carrasco for a double to left-center in the second inning, driving in C.J. Cron with the game’s first run. Two innings later, Astudillo hit a ground-rule double that would have easily scored Jonathan Schoop if it had stayed in the park. Then Astudillo added a sacrifice fly in the Twins’ five-run fifth.
Defensively, he earned an assist in the second inning when he backed up first base on Carlos Santana’s infield single. When Jorge Polanco’s throw skipped by Cron, Astudillo grabbed the ball and fired it back to Cron in time to tag out Santana, who had rounded first and was attempting to scramble back to the bag.
“That’s a pretty noteworthy play,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Any momentum the other side has going in getting a baserunner on and having him stand there, and [to] make that play just makes you smile.”
And so it begins …
But Astudillo was involved in a play in the eighth that could have season-long ramifications for the two teams expected to contend for the division title.
Astudillo was hit by Shane Bieber’s first pitch of the inning, and it looked fishy enough for plate umpire Todd Tichenor to warn both teams.
“Maybe it slipped out of his hand,” Astudillo said. “I don’t have much to say about it. I went out to have a good at-bat. It is what it is.”
But some Twins players grumbled about the play after the game. Bieber hit only two batters in 114⅔ innings last season, so that raised concerns. Add in Nelson Cruz being hit by a Trevor Bauer pitch on Saturday, and you had a manager who likely was speaking for the entire Twins clubhouse when he addressed the play afterward.
“It seemed like we were the team that was getting thrown up and in more than the other this series,” Baldelli said. “And it’s not something our players and our staff take kindly to. But I do have to respect the way it was handled by the umpires. And Todd has to make a decision there and he did, and I will stand by that decision.”
The Twins and Indians meet 16 more times this season, with the next game coming June 4 in Cleveland.
“I do generally respect the way that it was handled, and the umpires do a good job of making sure safety comes before anything else,” Baldelli said. “We also take note when our guys do continually get thrown either at or near. Those things are hard to forget.”
In 2017, Ryne Harper spent three days with the Mariners but never got a chance to pitch. That was as close as he got to playing in the majors.
Until Sunday, when the righthander made his major league debut at age 30. Harper, working the ninth inning, walked two but did not give up a run. He showed off his big breaking curveball during his outing, and with his family in the stands, he struck out Max Moroff on a fastball to end the game.
“It was cool to finally be out there,” Harper said. “I was really excited, but I was trying to simplify it and just make it just like every other outing I’ve had in my career, just make it as simple and easy. Stick to the same routine. And unfortunately I walked a couple guys, and that’s not typically what I do, but got through the inning and the team got the win and won the series so I’m excited for the group of guys. It was a lot of fun.”
Jose Berrios will start Tuesday when the Twins open a two-game series at Kansas City. Berrios, who threw 7⅔ scoreless innings Thursday, will be pitching on regular four days’ rest.
Righthander Kyle Gibson, who was a little behind other pitchers in Twins camp after an offseason bout with E. coli, will make his season debut Wednesday. Gibson is the only member of the team’s 25-man roster to not appear in a game yet.
Holt dead at 74
A moment of silence was held before the game for Jim Holt, who played first base and the outfield for the Twins from 1968 to 1974. Holt died Friday in Burlington, N.C., at age 74.
Holt played nine major league seasons with the Twins and Athletics. In 571 games with the Twins, he hit .272 with 17 home runs and 159 RBI.
He was traded to Oakland in August 1974 and hit a tiebreaking two-run, pinch-hit single in Game 4 of that year’s World Series vs. the Dodgers. The A’s won that game 5-2, then won the championship the next night.