Baldelli trusts Varland after tough start vs. Brewers

April 3rd, 2024

MILWAUKEE -- was stellar for the Twins after being moved to the bullpen in early September last season, including two scoreless postseason appearances.

However, the St. Paul native, a former top pitching prospect, was thrust back into the rotation this season due to the departures of Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda in free agency, and with Anthony DeSclafani set to miss the entire 2024 season and part of next season after undergoing right flexor tendon surgery.

Varland was far from stellar in his first start of the season on Tuesday, in a 3-2 loss to the Brewers, but the 26-year-old right-hander showed enough positive signs to remain cemented in the Twins rotation.

Pulled after four innings, Varland gave up six hits and three runs while walking two and striking out four. He surrendered a 423-foot home run to Christian Yelich to straightaway center in the third.

The Twins fell to the Brewers in front of a crowd of 41,659 for Milwaukee’s home opener.

After taking two of three against the Royals in Kansas City to start the season, the Twins are now 2-2 heading into an early afternoon tilt on Wednesday against the Brewers, who are 4-0 for the fourth time in franchise history.

Varland threw 89 pitches (52 strikes) in the abbreviated start.

“I think he really had to grind through the performance today,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He probably was at his strongest in the fourth inning, but we couldn’t really let him go any further. He threw a ton of pitches.”

The start didn’t go as Varland had hoped.

“I went four innings. I expected to go five or six,” he said. “That’s just how the game went. I threw a lot of pitches in the second and third innings.”

The home run to Yelich came on a fastball down the middle.

“He hits fastballs down the middle pretty well,” Varland said. “I wasn’t trying to throw it right there, but I did and he hit it out. Tip my cap.”

After shaky second and third innings, Varland retired the Brewers in order in the fourth.

“I reassessed and kind of figured out what they were trying to do up there,” he said. “I threw more off-speed in the fourth inning. That seemed to work, but at that point, my pitch count was up.”

Plate umpire Clint Vondrak had a “good tighter zone” that was consistent throughout the game, Baldelli said.

“Lou threw some good pitches, but they were just off the plate,” he said. “The Brewers also did a good job of laying off some of those pitches, too. They made his life difficult. They put the ball in play. They found the barrel. You don’t have to hit every ball 110 mph. You just have to have a good at-bat, and if you keep putting the ball in play something will happen.”

Varland started 10 games and appeared in 17 overall last season, compiling a 4-3 record with a 4.63 ERA.

Baldelli expressed confidence in Varland despite the rocky outing.

“Lou does a lot of good things. He’s got good stuff. He attacks. He’s generally in the zone a good amount. He adjusts pretty well,” Baldelli said. “We saw that in his last inning. I’m sure after an inning like that he wants to go out there again. He’s got to be more efficient, more than anything else.”

On the positive side, Varland did have some success with a new pitch.

“My new slider/curveball thing had some swing and misses, so that’s good,” Varland said.

Twins relievers Jay Jackson and Jorge Alcala combined to pitch four scoreless innings while allowing just one hit.

For their part, the Twins weren’t able to muster much offense, scoring two runs on three hits against five Brewers pitchers.

“It was not a great day offensively for us,” Baldelli said. “It felt like when we did put good swings on the ball, they made some plays.”

After scoring nine runs on 17 hits in their first two games, the Twins scored only two runs on seven hits in their past two contests, both of which were losses.

The Twins dropped their fourth consecutive game at American Family Field. Their last win there came on April 4, 2021.