MINNEAPOLIS -- There’s a new ace in town.
Jose Berrios tipped his cap to a roaring sellout crowd of 39,519 at Target Field as he strode off the mound to a standing ovation after outdueling Corey Kluber, one of the game’s premier aces, with 10 strikeouts in 7 2/3 scoreless innings in his first Opening Day test as the leader of the Twins' rotation.
Led by a sterling start from their budding ace and a timely two-run double by Marwin Gonzalez, the Twins sent an early message to the defending American League Central champion Indians with a 2-0 victory on Thursday.
“It’s what I expected and a little more, I would say, having my family in the stands and all the fans that came out to support us,” Berrios said. “When [manager Rocco Baldelli] took me out, it was the reaction, and I guess it was perfect.”
The 24-year-old Berrios baffled Cleveland hitters with his curveball and changeup, as his 10 strikeouts set a new Twins Opening Day record. Berrios walked one and allowed only two hits in 7 2/3 innings as he became the youngest Opening Day starter for the Twins since Brad Radke in 1997.
"Yeah, that was impressive,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I wish I wasn't sitting here saying that. But not only his velocity on his fastball, but he located, and he located it in enough, hard, then he'd throw a changeup off of that. He really kind of manhandled us today."
The keys were in the continued development of Berrios’ changeup, which showed heavy sink and armside run. He threw the pitch 12 times after it was a point of emphasis for his work this spring. He also threw 37 curveballs -- relying on two different kinds of curves -- and generated 10 whiffs with the pitch.
“I think more than even watching him pitch -- obviously that was an absolutely phenomenal effort on the mound today -- he has the attributes of an ace that are actually the ones that you see every day on the days he’s not pitching,” Baldelli said. “He has all of that. He brings that to the table every day when he shows up, every day when he goes home.”
Berrios only ran into trouble in the fourth inning, when Cleveland leadoff hitter Leonys Martin doubled to begin the frame and Carlos Santana drew a two-out walk. But Berrios used his curveball to strike out Hanley Ramirez on four pitches to escape the jam. That began a stretch of 12 consecutive hitters retired until Brad Miller’s two-out single in the eighth sent Berrios out of the game with a handshake from his new manager.
“Jose’s effort out there today kind of speaks for itself,” Baldelli said. “It deserved probably more than a handshake. Probably could have given him a little hug out there and that probably wouldn’t have done the thing justice, either.
“He's a guy that everyone on this team -- pitchers or position players -- they look to. He's a leader, that's what he is. Yeah, that's kind of special, because you see guys grow into that. He's growing into that younger than most.”
Marwin shakes off spring struggles
While Berrios mowed down the Indians' lineup, Kluber also kept the Twins’ bats silent through six innings, before the Twins’ offseason acquisitions finally broke through against the Indians' ace in the seventh.
Nelson Cruz singled to left to open the frame, then C.J. Cron singled to center. Gonzalez got a changeup that was left up and lined it to the left-field warning track for a go-ahead two-run double.
"I think that was the only pitch he missed the whole game,” Gonzalez said. “All of his pitches in the first six innings were down in the zone. Everything was moving. That was why we couldn't hit in the first six innings."
Gonzalez, who was a late arrival at Spring Training after he agreed to a two-year, $21 million deal on Feb. 25, said that he didn’t feel comfortable at the plate until the last few days of Grapefruit League action, as evidenced by his 13 strikeouts in 26 spring at-bats, but he's feeling better about the quality of his at-bats as the regular season begins. He is expected to remain the starter at third base in the absence of Miguel Sano (heel injury).
"The last few days of spring, I was feeling better even though I wasn't getting the results,” Gonzalez said. “The way that I was hitting the ball was way better than in the first few weeks of spring."
A stat that mattered
113.4 mph: The exit velocity of Byron Buxton’s double, Minnesota's first hit, in the sixth. It was the highest recorded exit velocity of his career. He recorded a 30.1 feet/second sprint speed, as he went from home to second in 7.54 seconds, which would have been the fifth-fastest double of the 2018 season.
“Oh, I know. I got that on a sheet of a paper,” Buxton said about the significance of his first at-bats at Target Field since last May. “I know. ... There's a lot on the sheet of paper.”
Buxton had been openly upset about not being recalled from Triple-A Rochester at the end of 2018.