MINNEAPOLIS -- With his unusually low walk and strikeout rates throughout his time in the Minors, Twins catcher and utilityman Willians Astudillo is one of the more interesting batters in the Majors.
Astudillo, with his stocky 5-foot-9 frame, has quickly become a fan favorite and added to that with his first career walk-off homer on Sunday against the Royals. After Max Kepler doubled with two outs, Astudillo came to the plate against reliever Jason Hammel and jumped on a 1-0 slider for a two-run shot to give the Twins a 3-1 win at Target Field. It was the sixth walk-off win for the Twins this year and their first since July 30.
"The legend continues for Mr. Astudillo," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "He gets his first walk-off homer, and it was just a nice way to finish a good day all around."
Astudillo, who had 85 walks and 81 strikeouts in 2,461 career plate appearances in the Minors, has translated his success to the Majors so far, hitting .297/.316/.595 with three homers and seven RBIs in 14 games. He's yet to draw a walk because of his aggressiveness, but has also only struck out twice, and said it's all part of his hitting plan.
"I just go out there with a plan to make good contact," Astudillo said through an interpreter. "I don't want to swing at bad pitches. I was looking for a specific pitch. The first one wasn't even close, so I waited for the second one. This is the big leagues. It's a walk-off and a win for the team. I'm very emotional. Very happy."
Right-hander Chase De Jong, acquired from the Mariners in the Zach Duke trade, was also solid in his debut, throwing four scoreless frames. He had some trouble with his control, walking four, but allowed just one hit and struck out five.
He ran into a jam in the third, loading the bases with two outs, keyed by two walks and a throwing error by De Jong on a bunt from Raul Mondesi. But De Jong escaped trouble, getting Hunter Dozier to ground out to end the inning. He threw a 1-2-3 fourth with the help of a double play, but exited after throwing 73 pitches in his first Major League start since May 16, 2017.
"The strikeouts were great, the walks were horrendous," De Jong said. "Very unusual for me. Let's chalk those up to maybe new team debut jitters. Astudillo did a tremendous job with the fingers back there. Think maybe I shook off once."
Zack Littell replaced him and also pitched well for 3 1/3 innings, but gave up a game-tying homer to Mondesi in the sixth. It was one of two hits allowed by Littell, who surrendered the homer on a 3-2 cutter.
"I think we're seeing more of what we know about him in terms of swings and misses and aggressiveness," Molitor said of Littell. "He's throwing the ball a little bit harder than I expected coming up here later in the year. The cutter has been a really nice pitch. The last couple outings have been moving forward for him."
The offense, though, was held in check by veteran right-hander Ian Kennedy, who went six frames, allowing one run on four hits and three walks. The Twins scored their only run against him in the second, when Robbie Grossman doubled and scored on a single from Ehire Adrianza.
"It was a battle," Molitor said. "The offense was having trouble finding ways to get much going."
De Jong became the 53rd player used by the Twins this year, which is a franchise record, breaking the previous high of 52 players used last season.
HE SAID IT
"I think that's sometimes an overlooked aspect in today's game. A guy who can do his job back there and stay present in terms of different pitchers -- new plan, same hitters. It's just one of those things where you're constantly having to be thinking ahead. I think he did a really nice job. He was kicking himself for the homer; not that it was the wrong call, we just didn't execute the pitch. He's getting a chance to show us he can handle himself back there." -- Molitor, on Astudillo catching four pitchers
The Twins will host the Yankees for a three-game set starting Monday at 7:10 p.m. CT. Right-hander Kyle Gibson will start the series opener and was solid against the Astros last time out, allowing two earned runs over seven innings. Lefty J.A. Happ starts for New York.