Backed by homers, 'stone-faced' Mahle dominates

April 4th, 2023

MIAMI -- The Twins acquired   from the Reds at the 2022 Trade Deadline, and the organization is still familiarizing itself with the veteran right-hander.

If Monday’s first outing of the 2023 season is any indication, Mahle projects to be a big part of the club’s success.

Backed by early run support, courtesy of Max Kepler’s leadoff homer and Joey Gallo’s three-run blast in the second, Mahle struck out seven and gave up one run over five innings in the Twins’ 11-1 win over the Marlins at loanDepot park.

“It’s easy when you’re up by so much,” Mahle said. “You still want to go out and compete, shut the door. But it makes your job a lot easier because you know you can throw strikes. As long as you make good pitches, we’re going to win the ballgame."

On the mound, Mahle excels at keeping his emotions in check, which leaves even the Twins' staff wondering what makes him tick.

“I don’t know if it’s ‘stone-faced,’” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said pregame Monday. “He’s stoic. You get no feel for exactly how he’s doing by looking at his mannerisms or his facial expressions or anything like that. But he’s a guy who just continues to go out there and knows how to get outs.”

Monday was an important hurdle for Mahle to clear, especially considering that he made just four starts and logged only 16 1/3 innings with Minnesota after he was acquired from Cincinnati.

Mahle also has the ability to reach back and add velocity in the later innings. Reds manager David Bell noted this fact in a conversation with Baldelli after the trade last August.

“I don’t know what to call the category, and David Bell told me, ‘This is what he is,'" Baldelli said. “We had an extended conversation about him when we got him. [Bell] said [Mahle] is going to go out there and he is going to get better as the game goes on. He couldn’t tell me why.”

For the Twins, their rotation has stepped up in the first four games, as the starters have combined to allow just two runs in 21 1/3 innings.

“We’re always motivated to go out and do what we can do,” Mahle said. “But when the whole staff is pitching like that, you know, it kind of pushes you to maybe be better than you are. Not necessarily try to be better than you are, but it just kind of gives everyone a little bit of motivation to go out there and do the same thing, and keep it going.”

Having Mahle available every fifth day gives the Twins a huge boost. A right shoulder injury sidelined him last year, and Monday was his first time on the mound in about a week -- since his last spring outing on Tuesday.

“That last day of spring was the last time I pitched,” Mahle said. “It was like a week ago, so this week was kind of brutal for me because I felt like I hadn’t pitched in forever, and you’re just wondering how that first start is going to get your season going. I’m really glad to get that out of the way.”

As mentioned, Mahle was helped by some early run support courtesy of the long ball. Kepler led off the game with a home run off Johnny Cueto. 

Kepler’s first hit of the season traveled a projected 411 feet, with an exit velocity of 100.3 mph. He also hit a single in the fourth before he exited with right knee soreness.

In the second inning, the Twins struck again on Gallo’s three-run home run to right, his third homer in his past two games.

Jose Miranda walked to open the inning, then advanced to third on Nick Gordon’s single to right. Gallo’s no-doubt shot traveled a Statcast-projected 399 feet with a whopping 112.3 mph exit velocity.

Minnesota tacked on two more runs in the seventh inning on Trevor Larnach’s two-run home run. And in the ninth inning, Ryan Jeffers deposited a home run off Jacob Stallings, the Marlins' starting catcher who pitched the inning. It was Jeffers' first career pinch-hit homer.

“Just keep the momentum going and try to take it to the day,” said Larnach, who added an RBI triple in the third inning. “That’s big with this team. Everyone respects each other and trusts each other. If we can keep momentum and the bond that we have and how we mesh, keep the energy rolling and keep the momentum rolling, it’s going to stack [up] and keep going. That’s really what we want to keep doing.”