MINNEAPOLIS -- It’s a simple formula that has served the Twins well as they have rocketed to the best record in baseball: dominant starting pitching and a balanced attack.
In Friday night’s installment of the Twins’ dizzying carousel of rotation dominance, Jake Odorizzi was once again the hero, allowing only one hit to the Tigers in seven shutout innings as he won his fifth straight decision in front of a packed crowd of 26,789 at Target Field. Mitch Garver and Max Kepler supported Odorizzi with homers as the Twins cruised to a 6-0 win in the series opener.
The Twins have won four in a row and 11 of their past 14 games -- a stretch including series against the Astros and Yankees.
“The pitching has been exceptional,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Carrying us in a lot of different ways. [Odorizzi], pretty incredible, throwing the ball about as well and as dominant as anyone could possibly be. Going out there and knowing we have that behind us, it helps us to swing the bats with confidence. It’s been a great run.”
Odorizzi allowed a first-inning double to Christin Stewart but absolutely nothing thereafter, retiring the next 20 hitters in order to complete his third consecutive scoreless outing on 95 pitches. In doing so, Odorizzi, the reigning American League Player of the Week, extended his scoreless innings streak to 20, and he has not allowed a run since April 22.
Odorizzi owns the longest scoreless streak by a Twins starter since Ervin Santana threw 22 straight shutout frames from April 3-20, 2017. During his five consecutive wins, he has allowed three runs in 31 1/3 innings (0.86 ERA) with 28 strikeouts and six walks.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen him pitching like he’s pitching right now, but I’ve seen him really good for long periods of time,” said Baldelli, who also coached Odorizzi when both were with the Rays. “His breaking ball, and the way he’s using it, especially his harder breaking ball, is probably a little different right now than anything I’ve seen before. It gives him an added dimension to the guy that he already was, and that was a really good Major League pitcher.”
And what a run it has been for Odorizzi, who lowered his season ERA to 2.32.
Two starts ago, he triumphed over Justin Verlander in a 1-0 pitchers’ duel to prime a series win over the Astros. In his previous start, last Saturday, he led the Twins to their only win in the Bronx since 2016 by allowing two hits in six shutout innings in the 7-3 win. And on Friday, he held an opponent to one hit without a walk in a start of more than one inning for the first time in his eight-year career.
Odorizzi acknowledged that walks were a “really big problem” for him last season, and he worked through the offseason at the Florida Baseball Ranch to correct his mechanics. He has added more than a mile per hour to his fastball, and he continued to feel good on Friday about the consistency and command of his offspeed pitches.
“I think a lot of it is just the prep that I did, getting back to where I'm comfortable,” Odorizzi said. “And this is where I was at in ‘15, ‘16, when I just felt like my mechanics were fluid. And I know I don't have complex mechanics, but when you create bad habits, it's hard to break them at some point. So I'm glad that the work I did has paid off, and it's the right direction.”
It certainly didn’t hurt that he got plenty of help from his defense on Friday night, too.
Following Stewart’s double with one out in the first inning, Byron Buxton made another one of his patented leaping catches at the left-center-field wall to rob Nicholas Castellanos of an RBI and an extra-base hit, covering 121 feet before snagging the ball and crashing into the fence separating the bullpens from the field.
“When a guy saves you runs like that ... keeps the game 0-0,” Odorizzi said, “it's a huge turning point in the game. Who knows? If those runs score, maybe we press a little more as an offense. It just kind of snowballs right there.”
It was Eddie Rosario’s turn next, with the Twins’ left fielder making a sliding grab on a shallow fly ball by Jeimer Candelario in the second inning. The fourth inning saw third baseman Marwin Gonzalez make a sliding stop on a grounder to his left before he got to his feet and threw to first to nab Castellanos at first.
Beyond that, Odorizzi didn’t need much help. But the defensive fireworks were certainly befitting a Twins team that, right now, is firing on all cylinders in all three phases of the game.
"It's a lot of confidence, really,” Odorizzi said. “It's turning into a team where you're seeing, even if we're down, putting up a zero each inning and if there's a deficit, keeping it at that certain deficit is going to be important, and we're going to come back and win games because of that this year.”