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Odorizzi channels excitement into dominance

Back at Trop as visitor, Twins starter shuts out Rays for 6 innings
@Sportsgal25
June 2, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- Jake Odorizzi found himself in an unfamiliar position in a familiar place on Sunday. And so he did what anyone would do: worked the room until it felt like home again during the Twins’ 9-7 win against the Rays at Tropicana Field. • Box score Odorizzi spent

ST. PETERSBURG -- Jake Odorizzi found himself in an unfamiliar position in a familiar place on Sunday.

And so he did what anyone would do: worked the room until it felt like home again during the Twins’ 9-7 win against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Box score

Odorizzi spent five seasons (2012-17) with Tampa Bay before he was traded to Minnesota in February 2018, compiling a 21-19 record and 3.38 at his home dome. He faced the Rays once last season, but Sunday marked his return to Tropicana Field, and it meant a little bit more, so he dialed up the intensity to match.

“I’m human,” said Odorizzi, who moved to 8-2 on the season after six scoreless innings. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more excited for this game than maybe some other ones, just because I spent so much time here and they were great to me while I was here.

“It wasn’t … fueled by hate. It was just fueled by a lot of excitement.”

Whatever anger the Twins may have had after a series-opening 14-3 shellacking on Thursday simmered gently throughout the weekend and boiled over Sunday in the form of a 7-0 lead after five innings. While his offense steadily built a lead, Odorizzi hummed steadily in the background, collecting nine strikeouts and lowering his American League-leading ERA to 1.96.

He has now thrown 16 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings and allowed no runs in six of his past seven starts. Though Odorizzi has become quite a different pitcher than he was during his years with Tampa Bay, due in large part to his growing success with offspeed pitches, Sunday’s win centered around the fastball.

Lots of them: 80 out of 108, to be exact.

“His velo is up. His fastball really, really plays up. He’s got a knack to pitch right at the top of the zone. You could tell from the side that he had a lot of zip with the pitches,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I know he threw a couple of breaking balls and a couple of changeups in there, but he wasn’t going to get off the fastball until we made him, and we didn’t do that.”

“I threw some breaking balls in there, and they weren’t even really checking swings on it,” Odorizzi said. “So I just decided to go with what they were swinging at.”

Odorizzi was never really in danger at any point, permitting his former teammates just three hits against nine strikeouts. The closest the Rays came to any sort of a threat came in the third inning, when Austin Meadows drove a one-out single and Yandy Diaz followed it up with a drive to the wall in straightaway center field.

Twins outfielder Byron Buxton not only took care of the immediate by snagging the fly as he crashed into the wall, but he had an eye on the infield as well. Meadows had rounded second, and Buxton’s 97.1-mph throw beat him to first to end the inning.

“It’s just very deflating for [the Rays], to think they’ve got some runs, or second and third -- whatever the case may be -- but then we’re out of the inning,” Odorizzi said. “I think that was the big turning point; to minimize what they had going, and to do it in that fashion.”

The memorable finale contained plenty of action, during which Minnesota did enough of the right things early so that a late-game stumble didn’t spoil the celebration. Along the way, the Twins collected at least 10 hits for the 14th time in 17 games, moved to 21-9 on the road this season and won their first series in St. Petersburg since Aug. 5-7, 2016.

Minnesota had boosted the score to 7-0 by the time the fifth inning was finished, a lead that came in mighty handy when Odorizzi was replaced by Matt Magill to start the seventh. Magill lasted just two-thirds of an inning before getting the hook, allowing five runs (four earned) on four hits, a walk and a hit batter.

It wasn’t nearly enough to spoil Odorizzi’s homecoming.

“Against good teams it’s never easy, but he went out there and truly did his job,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Not only that, but he got pretty deep in the game and covered an extra inning or two for us on top of everything else. It was just another phenomenal effort.”

Dawn Klemish is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Tampa. Follow her on Twitter @Sportsgal25.