Julien's oppo leadoff blast ignites refreshing outburst

Twins' No. 4 prospect opens game with first career Target Field homer

May 24th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Giants seemingly did all they could to help the Twins’ slumping offense with a comedy of errors on defense. and a depleted Minnesota lineup were all too happy to take advantage.

Julien began the Twins’ offensive attack with the first leadoff homer of his career, later adding a sacrifice fly, a walk and another run scored. The rookie led Minnesota’s most significant offensive output in nine days as he keyed a 7-1 victory over the Giants on Wednesday afternoon at Target Field that helped the Twins avoid being swept for the first time this season.

“There was definitely a lot of action, and I think the main thing is, offensively, it was good for us to be able to touch home plate several times, and doing it in different styles, whether it's the baserunning or the long ball,” said Twins bench coach Jayce Tingler.

The Twins, owners of the highest strikeout rate in baseball, were finally able to sustain -- and create -- some rallies with the help of the Giants’ defense, which committed three errors in the third inning and tacked on a passed ball and wild pitch that contributed to Minnesota scoring runs in five of its eight offensive innings.

It was the kind of well-rounded offensive attack these Twins sorely missed during their six-game road trip through Southern California. It also came at a particularly good time, on a day Minnesota struggled to even put a healthy lineup together due to a combination of key hitters on the injured list and Carlos Correa and Joey Gallo unavailable off the bench.

That’s where Julien and Willi Castro stepped in.

Julien, the organization’s No. 4 prospect, was called up to man second base while Jorge Polanco is sidelined with a hamstring strain. The difference in this Twins team is that, unlike in years past, they can rely on top prospects like Julien and Matt Wallner when they have to dig deep.

After taking the first pitch from Giants starter Anthony DeSclafani, Julien got a slider tailing in toward his hands but still managed to sting the ball to left-center field, an impressive showcase of opposite-field power that sent his third big league blast a Statcast-projected 407 feet into an area of the bleachers typically reserved for right-handed sluggers.

“I'm not going to lie -- after the home run, I thought I hit a fastball, but it was a slider,” Julien said. “So it just felt good to stay behind and catch the inside part of the ball. … First one at Target [Field]; I'll remember this one forever. It was cool, just to go oppo. It always feels better when you hit a home run oppo.”

He gets that good feeling quite often, actually, because that left-center-field area is what he describes as his power alley since he first started knocking balls over the fence as a collegiate hitter at Auburn University. Two of his three homers in the Majors have gone the other way, including his first career blast at Yankee Stadium in April.

Julien added a sacrifice fly when the Twins scored two more runs in the second inning -- an important plate appearance for a team that has struggled to find productive outs in those situations -- and tacked on a walk in the fourth, which had been his primary calling card as he rose through the Minors.

“​​I thought Julien kind of set the tone,” Tingler said.

Julien’s defense has been his clear focus for improvement -- he made a throwing error in the fifth on a routine grounder -- but he executed an important play in the second, when the Giants threatened to take the lead against Twins starter Joe Ryan by putting men on second and third with one out. When LaMonte Wade Jr. grounded a ball to second, Julien made a quick exchange and a strong throw home to nail Casey Schmitt at the plate and keep the game tied, 1-1.

The Twins immediately plated two more in their half of the second and held that lead, with Castro’s leadoff double and Julien’s eventual sacrifice fly prominently factoring into the rally. Castro has also proved valuable in this stretch for his versatility and threat on the basepaths, and he became the first Twins player to steal home since 2013 when he came home on a double steal in the third inning.

“The first two games we played [against the Giants], we were a little off, but we came back stronger today and we have a day off tomorrow, and we know we're going to come back even stronger,” Castro said.