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Twins' pitching strategy, big inning pay off

September 17, 2018

DETROIT -- After making the seventh appearance of his rookie season Monday night against the Tigers, Kohl Stewart could confidently say he felt comfortable on the mound during a 6-1 Twins win at Comerica Park.Stewart was what Twins manager Paul Molitor has been calling the "primary pitcher," meaning he comes

DETROIT -- After making the seventh appearance of his rookie season Monday night against the Tigers, Kohl Stewart could confidently say he felt comfortable on the mound during a 6-1 Twins win at Comerica Park.
Stewart was what Twins manager Paul Molitor has been calling the "primary pitcher," meaning he comes on after the "opener" throws an inning or two. On Monday, the opener was Gabriel Moya, who threw a scoreless 20-pitch first inning. The only blemish was a double by Nicholas Castellanos. Stewart said that's when the call came to the bullpen to activate him for the next inning.
Molitor mulling over Twins' future use of 'opener'
The 23-year-old worked six innings of three-hit ball in a role that's becoming more familiar to him: Monday was Stewart's third consecutive game going in after an opener, and the second consecutive time he did so without allowing a run. Stewart has a 1.88 ERA in those games and hasn't allowed more than three hits per outing.

"I felt comfortable tonight," he said. "I knew what to expect. The more you do something, the better you're gonna understand it."
Stewart said he thinks Moya would have stayed in for a second inning had it not been for Castellanos' double.
"Things worked tonight how you would draw it up if you were hoping for success with the opener format," Molitor said.

Stewart allowed one run in the fourth inning, but it was unearned. With Castellanos on first base, Eddie Rosario fielded a single hit by Jim Adduci to left field, but fell awkwardly as he turned around to throw. He rolled the ball to center fielder Jake Cave, but not before Castellanos scored from first base for the Tigers' lone run. Rosario left the game with an aggravated right quad and was replaced by Johnny Field.

Before his injury, Rosario started the scoring for the Twins with a solo home run in the first inning. It was his 24th homer of the year, three shy of his career high set last season.

The Twins are one of a few teams experimenting with the opener, and they will use one again for Wednesday's series finale in Detroit. Their record is now 2-3 when using an opener, and both wins have come with Stewart as the primary pitcher.
"I think it's there," Molitor said. "I think [Stewart] gets a little frustrated at times, but that's a good thing. You expect a lot. And really, his outings have been very solid, other than the fact that every once in a while he loses the feel for that sinker. … So far, he's looked like he's been able to handle the moment."
Helping Stewart along was the Twins' offense, which got to Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann with a four-run fourth inning to build a 5-0 lead. Four Twins recorded RBI singles in the frame, including Joe Mauer, whose 64th career RBI at Comerica Park is the most hit by any opposing player in the park's history. Zimmermann got two outs but didn't finish the inning.

In the ninth inning, Jorge Polanco hit a line-drive home run to right field for his sixth big fly of the season. It came one pitch after he nearly hit a towering home run over the right-field foul pole. The ball was called foul, and a 27-second review confirmed the call.

SOUND SMART
Robbie Grossman legged out two doubles Monday night. It was the third time this season Grossman has hit multiple extra-base hits in a game, and the 18th time he's done it in his career.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
With two outs and a runner on first in the third inning, Cave made a diving catch in left-center field to rob Tigers rookie Christin Stewart of an extra-base hit and RBI. Cave covered 58 feet in 3.7 seconds (15.7 feet/second), according to Statcast™. The ball had a 38 percent catch probability, making it a four-star catch.

HE SAID IT
"I've seen it on highlight shows and things, where guys come back and hit the next pitch for a homer, but that's the first time I've seen one live. It was a pretty good moment." -- Molitor, on Polanco's home run
UP NEXT
The Twins will return to a traditional starter Tuesday during a 6:10 p.m. CT game against the Tigers. Jake Odorizzi (6-10, 4.41 ERA) will take the mound for Minnesota. Odorizzi took a no-hitter into the eighth inning during in his last start against the Yankees. The Tigers will turn to Daniel Norris (0-4, 6.14), who allowed five runs over 4 2/3 innings during his last start against the Astros.

Tyler Fenwick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Detroit.