Homer cooking: Bailey on Target for Twins

Polanco, Donaldson go deep in Minnesota's home opener

July 29th, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Everyone knows that the Bomba Squad will hit in 2020. If Minnesota can get this version of as their fifth starter on top of that, special things could be in store for these Twins.

Though Bailey struggled with the long ball in a shortened start against the Cubs in last Wednesday's exhibition, he looked like a completely different pitcher when things actually mattered in his Twins debut on Tuesday night. The veteran right-hander held the Cardinals to two runs and four hits over five effective innings, giving the offense more than enough support for a 6-3 victory in the Twins' home opener at Target Field.

"Homer came out very sharp," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "We talked about Homer showing up in Fort Myers [for Spring Training] sharp. He came in locating very well. He came in very open-minded as far as plan and how he was going to go out there in execution and usage and things like that. We got a chance to see it in an actual game today."

doubled for his first hit since he joined the lineup late in camp due to COVID-19, hit a rocket for an RBI fielder's choice in his first plate appearance of the season, and homered to power a five-run outburst in the second inning. added his first Twins homer in the fourth inning to extend Minnesota's lead.

Bailey cruised with all of that early run support. He appeared to locate his fastball better than in his exhibition start, and that added effectiveness to his off-speed pitches as he struck out four batters through five frames. Three of those punchouts came on his splitter -- his primary swing-and-miss pitch -- and the other came on the slider.

"I really, genuinely feel like it's a step forward," Bailey said. "I still have work to do, and so does everybody, and it is going to be a constant thing throughout the season no matter what type of season it is. And you go watch the game, look at [the] good, the bad and just keep trying to improve and win as many games as we can."

The 34-year-old didn't allow a hit until Tommy Edman's two-out double in the third inning and had his only bump in the fifth, when Tyler O'Neill hit a hanging slider for a two-run homer. Bailey threw 80 pitches, and his extended outing meant that the Twins' bullpen only needed four innings from four relievers, a particularly important consideration as the Twins began a stretch of 36 games in 37 days.

The big first impression had Bailey in good spirits following Tuesday's game. It only made things better that this success came against the Cardinals, a historic nemesis.

After spending much of his career with the Reds, Bailey entered the game 6-16 lifetime against St. Louis, with a 5.80 ERA in 28 starts. His last winning effort against the Cardinals came all the way back on May 23, 2014 -- eight starts ago.

"I'm going to enjoy this one a lot," Bailey said. "It's been a long time coming. I've got some familiarity with them. We came in with a great game plan, and I knew that if I could go out and execute, our offense's potency, then we would get a win."

Most importantly, this is the version of Bailey that the Twins were hoping to get when they signed him to a one-year deal during the offseason -- the version closer to the pitcher that posted a 4.30 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 13 starts with Oakland at the end of last season, and not the pitcher who struggled to stay healthy and pitched to a 6.25 ERA from 2015-18.

The Twins don't need Bailey to be the ace he once was in Cincinnati. Given the quality of the offense in Minnesota, solid efforts will be more than enough, especially as the Twins await the return of the suspended Michael Pineda at the end of August. Bailey is off to a good start.

"The preparation we were doing in Oakland and even here is very similar, and that leads to a lot of confidence when you go out there," Bailey said. "Just trying to carry over that momentum sometimes can be a little difficult, especially when you have an offseason and you have this COVID thing going on. I really don't look at it backwards, as I do try to prepare to where we are right now."