After G1 scare, Twins ride Jeffers to DH split

Catcher drives in 4 in G2 after Ryan escapes with bruise due to comebacker

September 15th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins got good injury news earlier in the day when X-rays didn’t reveal a fracture in young right-hander Joe Ryan’s wrist -- and they celebrated with a much-needed offensive rally in the nightcap.

Considering the bats had been largely quiet outside of a few homer-fueled explosions for the better part of two weeks, it was an encouraging sign when they scraped together a four-run, go-ahead rally with five hits in the bottom of the fourth inning, which included one of Ryan Jeffers’ team-high three hits. That rally and a sixth-inning Jeffers homer fueled a 6-3 victory over Cleveland in seven innings and a split of Tuesday’s doubleheader at Target Field.

“We've been getting a lot of offspeed as an offense,” Jeffers said. “We're one of the better fastball-hitting teams, and we've been hitting a lot offspeed. And we came in, and we were able to string some stuff together and saw kind of how [Cleveland left-hander Logan Allen] was going to attack us and just be comfortable in the box.”

Pressed into heavier usage than any other catcher in the Rocco Baldelli era due to Mitch Garver’s low back tightness, Jeffers snapped an 0-for-9 skid by matching a career-high with three hits as he fell a triple shy of the cycle. He singled in the second, brought home the Twins’ first two runs with his fourth-inning double and padded the lead in the sixth with his 13th homer of the year.

His team-leading four RBIs surpassed his entire August total, with his aggressive approach in attacking pitches in the strike zone helping to turn the tide from a .400 OPS this month, with 15 strikeouts and no walks in 30 plate appearances entering Tuesday’s game.

“He hit some slow stuff,” Baldelli said. “He hit some fastballs. He did a really nice job staying on the ball. After everything that he saw all day, facing a guy with good stuff in that at-bat that he hit the home run in, he was ready for it. He got on top of the pitch, drove it to the middle of the field. Ryan has that kind of strength.”

After being held to three hits through the seven innings of a 3-1 loss in the first game, the Twins eclipsed that total in the fourth inning alone, as they fought back from an early 3-0 deficit. Jorge Polanco led off with a single and Miguel Sanó followed with a one-out single before the bottom of the Minnesota lineup tallied three straight run-scoring knocks with two outs, including doubles from Jeffers and Willians Astudillo and a go-ahead RBI single by Nick Gordon.

Four of Gordon’s last five RBIs have either tied the game or given the Twins the lead, dating back to the Sept. 5 game against Tampa Bay in which he knocked the game-tying and go-ahead hits.

“I wouldn't say I look at it as saying, 'I'm here, I've made it,' or things like that,” said Gordon, who struggled with chronic gastritis and COVID-19 before earning consistent playing time this season. “I think it's more just continuing to work. Hopefully, my body continues to stay feeling as well as I do now and even gets better.”

Though the Twins didn’t get the doubleheader sweep, they still needed this kind of day toward the end of a tough stretch of 14 games in 13 days, during which they had to give up an off-day before this doubleheader to travel to New York for a difficult loss.

The malaise of that stretch was compounded when Ryan took a liner off his right wrist and exited the first game of the doubleheader -- but the Twins got some encouragement when Ryan ended up no worse for the wear and when they followed that up by chaining together hits to take advantage of a scoring opportunity.

With the club having been mathematically eliminated from the postseason, it’s these kinds of highlights from rookies like Jeffers and Gordon that will push the Twins through the end of a tough year.

“This was a tough few days, and we got some things done tonight, and we got them done even after we were down,” Baldelli said. “We faced some adversity this week, and being down early in this game didn’t make it any easier, but we fought pretty well and were able to put some runs on the board, got big swings from a lot of different guys. The lineup contributed today. It was a good day.”