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Stewart stellar, but 'pen falters in loss to Tigers

September 25, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS -- Rookie Kohl Stewart has continued to improve since making his Major League debut in mid-August, and has been adapting well to his role as a primary pitcher with the Twins using an opener before his recent outings.Stewart recorded six shutout frames against the Tigers, but closer Trevor Hildenberger

MINNEAPOLIS -- Rookie Kohl Stewart has continued to improve since making his Major League debut in mid-August, and has been adapting well to his role as a primary pitcher with the Twins using an opener before his recent outings.
Stewart recorded six shutout frames against the Tigers, but closer Trevor Hildenberger struggled again in a 4-2 loss in the series opener on Tuesday night at Target Field. Hildenberger surrendered back-to-back RBI singles to Nicholas Castellanos and Niko Goodrum in the eighth before Trevor May allowed two inherited runs to score on a two-out double from James McCann. Hildenberger has a 29.70 ERA over his last five outings, but manager Paul Molitor went with him despite Stewart having thrown 75 pitches.

"It's a fair question, as well as he pitched, and to get us that deep in the game with a one-run lead," Molitor said of the decision to pull Stewart. "He's done a nice job of adapting to the primary role of coming in, and the last few outings have been really good. But we felt we had a good chance of getting those last six outs out of the 'pen tonight, and kind of in sync with the whole opener format."

Stewart, who allowed an unearned run in Detroit on Sept. 17, improved his ERA to 3.68 in 36 2/3 innings and hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his eight outings. He's been particularly impressive in his four appearances as the primary pitcher in relief, posting a 1.33 ERA with just three earned runs allowed in 20 1/3 innings. But both Molitor and Stewart believe his success is more tied to better command than simply attributing it to the opener strategy.
"I think I've just been executing better, to be honest," Stewart said. "First couple starts, I wasn't throwing strikes and I just didn't execute well."
Lefty Gabriel Moya, serving as the opener for the fifth time, pitched around a walk and an error for a scoreless first before handing it over to Stewart. Stewart surrendered just two hits and no walks with five strikeouts, giving up a single to JaCoby Jones in the second and a single to Jeimer Candelario in the sixth.
"As the game went on, I felt like I got into a bit of a zone," Stewart said. "I wanted to keep going. It's not my decision. My job is to take the ball and throw until they tell me to stop."
Minnesota's offense was quiet, but Joe Mauer reached a milestone with a leadoff single in the first to set the club record for most times reaching base safely in a career at 3,073 passing Harmon Killebrew. Mauer reached second on a wild pitch from right-hander Spencer Turnbull and scored on a double from Jorge Polanco.

Mauer also singled in the eighth off reliever Joe Jimenez and scored on a one-out RBI single from Jake Cave. Minnesota loaded the bases with two outs, but John Forsythe lined out to center to end the potential rally.
Despite the loss, the Twins held a special ceremony in the clubhouse for Mauer after the game, making sure to acknowledge his latest impressive accomplishment in what could be his final week with the club.
"This one's certainly very significant when you think about the people that have put this uniform on in the past however many years it's been," Molitor said. "Harmon, the man he was, the player he was and to climb that last rung on the ladder, puts him in an exclusive category that he's the all-time Twins leader in most appearances on-base, and we recognized that postgame. I just really, really enjoy seeing our players reactions to some of the things that Joe's accomplishing."
Right fielder Max Kepler made a great running catch in the second to rob Harold Castro of what would've been his first Major League hit. Kepler covered 73 feet in 4.3 seconds to make the inning-ending grab.

"Anything Joe does, I'm really proud for him and happy for him. Wonderful baseball player, one of the best I've been around. He's still playing and who knows what he's gonna do after this year. But when you play long enough, that's what they're always gonna say; you play long enough and you're gonna start setting records. But that kind of record and that kind of name -- that's putting yourself up there with one of the best players I've ever had the chance to see and meet in Harmon. When your name starts passing guys like that, that means you've done something." -- Former Twins manager and current Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, on Mauer's accomplishment
The umpires made a critical review in the eighth, when Michael Mahtook grounded into a potential inning-ending double play to shortstop but Forsythe didn't make the throw to first after a slide from Goodrum into second. The umpires checked to see if Goodrum made a bona fide slide into second and after a review, the call stood with no double play. Molitor, though, believed Goodrum overslid the bag and rolled, which didn't allow Forsythe to make the throw. If Forsythe attempted to throw, the call could've been different, Molitor said. After the replay, McCann hit his two-run double to break the game open.

"I was a little disturbed by it," Molitor said. "With this new rule in place, and the criteria of a bona fide slide, I don't feel that the slide met those things. There's things in there about having to try to make an attempt to make a throw, but we've clarified in the past that when certain things happen, the guy's not going to throw the ball."
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi (7-10, 4.35 ERA) will make his final start of the season in the second game of the series on Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. CT at Target Field. Odorizzi has finished the year strong, posting 3.83 ERA in nine starts since Aug. 3. The Tigers counter with lefty Matthew Boyd (9-12, 4.16 ERA).

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.