Woods Richardson's scoreless start sets tone in Twins' finale win

May 22nd, 2024

WASHINGTON -- Simeon Woods Richardson came into his seventh start of the 2024 season ready to show that he is not the same pitcher the Nationals faced last year.

The Twins’ No. 23 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, did just that on Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park, twirling 4 2/3 scoreless innings and holding Washington to three hits and one walk en route to a 3-2 series-finale win.

“Sim gave us a good outing,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He does his thing, which is mixing his pitches well. Pitching with a little bit of everything, he's always going to do that. He got us right where we wanted to be.”

Woods Richardson’s performance was dominant compared to his last meetup with the Nationals in his lone MLB appearance in 2023 -- when he allowed five runs on seven hits and three walks in 4 2/3 relief innings. He exited that outing with a 9.64 ERA and dealt a total of 97 pitches (60 strikes).

After entering Wednesday’s game with a 2.97 ERA, ranking fifth among MLB rookies with 30 or more innings, Woods Richardson improved to 2.57 and now ranks third. He threw 77 pitches (48 strikes).

“I think you just have to execute,” the 23-year-old said. “You see everybody once or twice. Now it’s to the point where it’s like, ‘OK, you’re no longer a new face.’ You have to execute the pitch and go execute your game plan. I think it was pretty good.”

Woods Richardson’s relatively early exit from the game stemmed from the Twins having a well-rested bullpen and Baldelli wanting to take advantage of the off-day on Thursday.

“Our starters have thrown in a few of these games pretty deep into the game,” Baldelli said. “We knew it wasn't a day we had to push Sim a long way in the game and he was going to get us to wherever the best point was, matchup-wise.”

Despite striking out only one batter, Woods Richardson limited hard contact. The average exit velocity on balls in play against him was 85.5 mph, well below MLB's season-long average of 88.5. His pitching allowed for the defense to get the outs necessary to stop any offensive threat from Washington.

The young prospect got off to a sharp start. Despite falling behind a few pitches early, he retired six of the first eight batters he faced in the first two innings. His sole focus throughout the game was simply getting swings and misses.

“At that point, I was like, ‘OK, just try to be back in the strike zone, create contact, get easier outs,” Woods Richardson said. “If I’m getting weak contact and if I’m getting swings and misses -- maybe they are low -- but if I’m getting the stuff I want to see, then that’s perfectly fine with me.”

Woods Richardson provided a strong foundation, and the offense also made sure to support his work early.

Max Kepler led off the second frame, and one fastball from Nationals starter Jake Irvin was all he needed to send a Statcast-projected 409-foot homer into right-center field at 105.6 mph. The leadoff blast was reminiscent of his teammate Byron Buxton’s performance in the Twins’ 10-0 shutout win on Tuesday night.

Carlos Correa followed suit in the sixth inning. As the shortstop walked up for his third at-bat, his plan was to hit a curveball.

The plan worked. With two outs and a 1-0 count, Correa launched his second home run of the series into the stands in left field.

“He went up there with a good plan, he hammered a curveball, something slower,” Baldelli said. “That's making an adjustment in a game, all the stuff we're talking about, that's what it looks like.”

The final insurance run came in the top of the ninth, when Ryan Jeffers singled on a curveball from Hunter Harvey, allowing Kepler to score from second base.

After winning a tight game, the Twins will return home after an off-day with a series victory under their belt. The plan: Bring the positive energy from Wednesday into Friday’s series opener against the Rangers.

“We’re playing with confidence. We’re playing with conviction,” Woods Richardson said. “Our offense is creating pressure. We’re doing a lot of quality things for quality wins right now. We’re better than that, and we’re playing with confidence right now. That’s all we need to do.”