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Buxton HRs again, but bullpen falters in KC

Odorizzi struggles with command in 2020 debut
@dohyoungpark
August 9, 2020

Before Saturday’s game in Kansas City, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said that it might take someone in his lineup breaking out with a big game to help snap the Minnesota offense out of its recent funk. Byron Buxton did his best. The Twins’ center fielder continued his recent hot streak,

Before Saturday’s game in Kansas City, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said that it might take someone in his lineup breaking out with a big game to help snap the Minnesota offense out of its recent funk. Byron Buxton did his best.

The Twins’ center fielder continued his recent hot streak, driving in a season-high four runs and homering in his third straight game, giving the Twins’ offense a needed punch to take the lead in a four-run fourth inning. Still, the Royals seized the momentum right back with a six-run counter-punch in the bottom of the frame and spoiled Jake Odorizzi’s return to the mound by dealing the Twins a 9-6 loss, their third in a row.

Box score

“Those moments are really big,” Baldelli said. “Whenever any team puts runs on the board, everyone looks at each other and you look for that shutdown-type situation the next inning. It can kind of catapult you in some of these games. ... To put up those runs, it was a pretty big moment for us, but then it was a big moment in the next half-inning when they put up those runs, and I'm sure they were feeling good after that."

It took the Twins until their 94th game last season to lose three straight, but their pitching and offense simply haven’t been in sync in this recent stretch, leading to this dip 15 games into the 2020 campaign. Buxton helped the offense wake up and got help in the form of homers fromNelson Cruz and Max Kepler, but the pitching staff that carried the team for a stretch faltered on Saturday.

After the Twins fell behind 2-0 due to a wild 2020 debut from Odorizzi, Cruz led off the fourth with a homer, and Minnesota cashed in a two-out rally after Marwin González’s single and Luis Arraez’s walk, at which point Buxton crushed a hanging slider an estimated 419 feet to left-center to give the Twins a 4-2 edge.

“He's been on a lot of good fastballs, but then he's also hit some breaking balls really hard as well,” Baldelli said. “So knowing that he can do that, for his own approach at the plate, that's got to feel really good, knowing that you can catch up to some good heaters and then when they leave a pitch in the zone that's spinning, still be on it.”

It marked the first time in Buxton’s career that he homered in three straight games, an important sign considering his slow start to the season due to his late arrival in Summer Camp following the birth of his second son and his late adjustment to the regular season due to a left foot sprain.

Buxton later added an RBI single in the sixth inning before Ehire Adrianza quashed the bases-loaded rally by grounding into an inning-ending double play.

“This is what we saw a lot from him last year,” Baldelli said. “This is more of the same, and with him, I think a lot of it is just timing and getting back up there and getting some at-bats."

Buxton finished 2-for-4, his first multi-hit game of the season, and he owns a five-game hitting streak. He also made a leaping grab at the center-field wall in the third, when he drifted back to the warning track on Adalberto Mondesi's deep fly and snagged the ball before a controlled collision with the padding.

“I think he's really starting to come into his own right now,” Odorizzi said. “Love when he's out there for me making plays like that and contributing offensively as well. Glad to see him getting going after a delayed start to the season as well.”

All of this was nullified, though, by the Minnesota bullpen’s meltdown in the bottom of the fourth, when Lewis Thorpe entered in relief of Odorizzi and immediately allowed a single and two-run homer to erase the Minnesota lead. He allowed one more single before Cody Stashak also coughed up a single and a pair of homers in a six-run frame for Kansas City, which gave them enough of a lead to hold on.

The Twins needed their bullpen early because Odorizzi struggled with his command in his return from a stint on the 10-day injured list with a right intercostal strain and allowed four hits and two walks over 71 pitches in three innings. Odorizzi limited the damage after loading the bases in the first, but he escaped having allowed only one run. Jorge Soler’s third-inning homer accounted for the only other damage against the right-hander.

“It was just a little rusty, which I kind of expected to be a little bit,” Odorizzi said. “Physically, I felt perfectly fine. I think that’s the main thing I’m taking away from today is I had no issues whatsoever with any pain, any residual pain, any tightness.”

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.