Berríos outdueled by Bieber in series opener

July 31st, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- was good -- but Shane Bieber was untouchable.

The Twins’ right-hander turned in a needed bounce-back start after a rough Opening Day performance last week, holding the Indians to two runs on three hits through a five-inning appearance. Given the way his counterpart was pitching, it didn’t matter. Minnesota’s powerful bats fell silent against Bieber, who struck out 13 hitters in eight innings as the Twins fell to Cleveland in the series opener, 2-0, at Target Field.

So, Round 1 went to Cleveland in the first of what is expected to be a tight series of 10 battles for supremacy in the American League Central, featuring Cleveland’s deep pitching staff against Minnesota’s bombastic lineup. In this edition, Bieber overpowered the Bomba Squad as he matched a Major League record for punchouts through the first two starts of a season (27), according to Elias.

“Like I said before the season started, every game has a significant amount of importance to it,” Josh Donaldson said. “Playing against a division opponent has that same feel. We want to win these games, and tonight, they were the better team, and we get to come out here tomorrow night and meet again.”

Both staff aces traded efficient 12-pitch first innings to open 2020’s first clash between the AL Central favorites. Their outings diverged a bit from there.

Bieber continued on cruise control, allowing only one single through five innings and running into his only trouble in the sixth, when the Twins stranded a pair of runners. Berríos didn’t fare much worse. He wasn’t as efficient as Bieber and dealt with more traffic due to a pair of walks and a hit batter, but he consistently avoided damage despite an increasing pitch count, which ballooned to 96 pitches in five innings.

“There were a couple innings that did drive that pitch count up to a place where he didn’t end up going into the sixth or the seventh,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “But it was that kind of night, the way he was throwing the ball. If he was able to minimize a little bit of the damage, I think he would have pitched deep into the game with the stuff that he had.”

Berríos’ only serious mistake came in the third inning, when José Ramírez singled and Francisco Lindor followed with a homer to right, plating the only runs of the game. The right-hander came within one strike of ending the inning against both hitters, but each yanked a fastball in play to generate the runs.

The pitch to Ramírez was down in the zone, where catcher Mitch Garver set up. The decisive offering to Lindor was up -- just not enough.

“Ultimately, it was a couple of two-strike fastballs to some good hitters, that’s ultimately how they came into their runs,” Baldelli said. “We were very pleased with the way José threw the ball. I think if he continues to throw the ball like that, it’s going to be a really nice year for him.”

Berríos generated 10 whiffs and six strikeouts as part of his performance, up from the seven swinging strikes and one punchout he mustered in four innings against the White Sox on Opening Day. Baldelli felt the fastball was more effective, and some work that Berríos did in his last bullpen session with the mechanics of his glove arm helped increase the efficacy of his breaking ball, which he spotted to left-handers particularly well in the early innings.

He might still have benefited from more swing-and-miss stuff to finish hitters off, as Cleveland put five balls in play in two-strike counts and also tallied 17 foul balls off the right-hander, but Berríos was also quick to give credit to Cleveland’s lineup.

"They took great at-bats,” Berríos said. “I could tell. But also, I was feeling much better this outing than before. So they had a great plan. I don't have any excuses. They executed better than me. Like I said, I always go out there and battle. They got me on one pitch. Lindor hit a homer. But other than that, I tried to control the damage."

There are still nine head-to-head matchups this season, and the Twins are already looking beyond Bieber’s historic effort, focused on what’s next.

"[Bieber has] had two starts so far this season, so I'm not trying to give him the Cy Young right now,” Donaldson said. “At the end of the day, in those two starts, his command has been very good. As I said, elite command with every pitch that he has, and he really did a great job of executing. I'm looking forward to the challenge the next time it happens."