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Twins' patience pays off in 4-run third

Minnesota turns walks into runs in win over Tigers
@dohyoungpark
April 13, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- In Wednesday night’s loss to the Mets, the Twins’ pitching staff fell apart in a flurry of walks. But on Saturday, it was Minnesota’s hitters that took advantage of free passes in an opportunistic 4-3 victory over the Tigers at Target Field. The Twins’ lineup had entered Saturday’s

MINNEAPOLIS -- In Wednesday night’s loss to the Mets, the Twins’ pitching staff fell apart in a flurry of walks. But on Saturday, it was Minnesota’s hitters that took advantage of free passes in an opportunistic 4-3 victory over the Tigers at Target Field.

The Twins’ lineup had entered Saturday’s game with 26 walks, the fewest in the Majors, but three of the seven free passes offered by the Tigers’ pitching staff keyed the Twins’ decisive four-run rally in the third inning.

Manager Rocco Baldelli had said before the victory that he was in favor of the more aggressive approach displayed by his hitters this season as long as opposing pitchers are throwing strikes, as the Twins entered the game leading the Majors with swings on 49.6 percent of pitches and on 39.3 percent of first pitches.

Following the game, Baldelli was impressed with his hitters’ ability to remain aggressive while still maintaining a strong eye at the plate.

“Truthfully, we went up there with the same approach,” Baldelli said. “I believe we went up there looking for good pitches to hit and when we had the opportunity to maybe take a few pitches and kind of draw that inning out, we did, and we didn't expand the zone. I commend our guys for that and it put us in a position to put some on the board.”

After the Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third, Jonathan Schoop and Jason Castro both walked to begin the bottom of the frame against Detroit starter Tyson Ross, and Byron Buxton took advantage by knocking an RBI single through the left side.

After a Max Kepler single to extend his hitting streak to nine games, a game-tying sacrifice fly by Jorge Polanco and a walk to Nelson Cruz, Eddie Rosario gave the Twins the lead for good with a two-run single to right.

"I see the last week or so, this team, every time we go down, we come back again,” Rosario said. “Everybody comes back; everybody works together. The lineup, one through nine, is dangerous in whatever moment. Everybody has a good job. A couple of guys had walks. Base hit in the big moment. That's what's important. You're fighting and never go down."

Minnesota again used the Tigers’ wildness to threaten in the seventh inning, when relievers Drew VerHagen and Daniel Stumpf walked the bases loaded with nobody out, but the Twins emerged without a run after Polanco and Cruz struck out and Rosario flew out to deep center field.

Baldelli was particularly happy with the quality of his hitters’ at-bats when considering the inconsistent pace of their plate appearances early in the season, a result of the Twins’ challenging schedule involving six off-days within the first 16 days of the season, including Friday’s weather-related postponement.

“It's impressive,” Baldelli said. “Any Major League hitter would say consistent at-bats and seeing pitching is probably the most important thing to having good at-bats. We have not had that type of continual action for our guys… I would think that [hitting coach James Rowson] and [assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez] are continually telling their guys, 'What we're doing is good. Let's just keep this going.'”

Pineda continues to stretch out

Twins starter Michael Pineda threw a season-high 96 pitches in six innings as he has continued to work deeper into games following his return from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and a torn meniscus in his right knee.

“He's put himself in a spot where I know I'm comfortable letting him go out there throwing 90 or 100 pitches,” Baldelli said. “I think the game dictates where he ends up coming out of the game. The way he's throwing the ball makes you want to give him the opportunity to stay in there and battle through those hitters.”

Pineda had thrown 80 pitches in his previous start and 40 in his season debut. He threw 73 of his 96 pitches for strikes -- the highest strike percentage of any start in the Majors this season -- allowing three runs while striking out five without a walk.

He might have gone even deeper into the game had it not been for a fluke play in the third inning, when Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones hit what appeared to be an easy double-play ball towards second baseman Jonathan Schoop, but the ball caromed off second-base umpire Chris Guccione and was ruled a single, which loaded the bases with no outs.

Pineda needed 20 more pitches to escape the inning and allowed two runs.

“It’s a really tough inning, because they have runners on first and second and we got a ground ball,” Pineda said. “It’s a double play, 100 percent, but it hit the umpire, but I don’t want to think [about] it too much. After that, just tried to make my best pitch.”

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.