Varland impresses Twins in dazzling debut

Minnesota native fans 7 over 5 1/3 innings, but Yankees sweep doubleheader

September 8th, 2022

NEW YORK -- It was a rough day for the Twins at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, dropping both ends of a doubleheader against the Yankees: the first game, 5-4, in 12 innings and the nightcap, 7-1.

The losses put the Twins in a second-place tie with the White Sox, two games behind the Guardians atop the American League Central.

“Long, tough day sums it up pretty well,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Game 2 did not go according to plan. There wasn’t probably a ton to get excited about.

“Game 1, I thought we played a good ballgame and put ourselves in a good position and had some opportunities to win the ballgame. … There were a lot of things we did well, some things we could have done better. But overall, not getting a win in either game is a hard way to end the day.”

But nothing could spoil the Major League debut for Twins right-hander Louie Varland in the first game. He is the eighth Minnesota-born player to start for the Twins, the first since right-hander Cole De Vries made two starts in 2013.

If he was nervous, Varland didn’t show it. He was dominant, working into the sixth inning but receiving a no-decision for his efforts.

“I’m glad it’s over because there was a lot of anxiety, but it all worked out,” Varland said. “I really couldn’t feel my legs [when I faced] the first batter. After that first out, though, things were kind of normal and after getting the first strikeout against [Aaron] Judge -- the perfect one to get my first strikeout on, I was glad that happened. It was fun.”

Varland, who is ranked as the Twins' 10th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline, pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowed two runs on three hits and struck out seven.

He retired the first eight batters he faced before allowing a double to Oswald Peraza, which was the Yankees prospect's first Major League hit. Varland's first strikeout of Judge came in the first inning. The strikeout ball was taken out of play and will go to his mother, Kim.

Judge would get some revenge in the fourth inning, hitting his MLB-best 55th home run of the season to lead off the frame. It was Varland’s only blemish in the game. But with a 3-1 lead, Baldelli wasn’t going to allow Varland to face Judge a third time. Griffin Jax entered with one on and one out in the sixth inning to face Judge, who popped up to second base. However, next batter Gleyber Torres tied the game with a two-run homer.

Varland said he understood why he was taken out of the game.

“I was not surprised. I was hopeful, but the game situation called for [a pitching change], and that’s how it went down,” Varland said.

Twenty-three members of Varland’s family, including Kim and father Wade, were sitting in the mezzanine section near third base and could be seen cheering on Varland with “Looooou” and rising out of their seats when he recorded an out.

Before he stepped on the mound, Varland received words of advice from his brother, Gus, a Minor League pitcher in the Dodgers' organization. Gus told Louie his stuff would play great against the Yankees' lineup, except for Judge -- just make sure to throw the slider low against him.

“It’s one of those things we talked about as kids,” Gus remembered. “It’s something I can’t even explain.”

Kim was bawling (happily, of course) after seeing her son make his Major League debut.

“I’m floating around. I don’t care about anything else. I’m so proud of him. He deserves this so much,” Kim said. “It's an overwhelming joy. How do you describe your kid’s dreams coming true before your eyes? How could you want more?”

Said Wade: “It’s like a whirlwind. It seems like a simple little tidbit, but all the things are loaded behind that tidbit. It’s joyful, stressful. What do we do next?”

It was not surprising to see Varland on the Major League roster Wednesday. Before the promotion, he spent time with Triple-A St. Paul and Double-A Wichita this season and was a combined 8-5 with a 3.06 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 126 1/3 innings. Varland, who throws a fastball-changeup-slider mix, was selected in the 15th round of the 2019 Draft.

“I worked extremely hard during the COVID season [in 2020], but I worked with a lot of coaches during the 2021 season,” Varland said. “I worked on pitches, and it unfolded to where we are today. Everything fits in place.”

After the nightcap, Varland -- called up as the 29th man for the doubleheader -- was told he would be sent back to St. Paul, but don’t expect a long stay for him in the Minor Leagues.

“I told him he was outstanding today,” Baldelli said. “There is a lot to build on here. It was a very nice effort, not just good stuff, not just pretty good command, just the whole package was there today.

“I do think we will see a lot more of him. I think we are going to have him lined up to do some things for us as the season goes on. I will be looking forward to following him and seeing him again soon.”