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Twins routed in 'opener' strategy debut

Cave goes deep in third straight game
September 2, 2018

ARLINGTON -- The Twins employed the "opener" strategy for the first time this season against the Rangers on Saturday, and while Zack Littell had some success early, it all fell apart in a nine-run sixth inning.With the top of Texas' lineup left-handed leaning, lefty reliever Gabriel Moya opened the game,

ARLINGTON -- The Twins employed the "opener" strategy for the first time this season against the Rangers on Saturday, and while Zack Littell had some success early, it all fell apart in a nine-run sixth inning.
With the top of Texas' lineup left-handed leaning, lefty reliever Gabriel Moya opened the game, but served up a two-run homer to the right-handed-hitting Elvis Andrus in a sign of things to come in an 18-4 loss in the series finale. Despite the results in the first attempt, the Twins are scheduled to utilize the opener strategy again Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.
"It didn't go great in the fact that we gave up a two-run homer in the first," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "We got a nice job from Zack for the most part. He threw the ball well and got us into the middle innings at least. And things just fell apart."
Littell replaced Moya in the second, and promptly allowed a leadoff double to Jurickson Profar, but got out of the inning unscathed. He didn't give up a run until the fifth, and it was unearned, as John Forsythe and Max Kepler were both charged with errors on the same play, allowing a run to score.

It unraveled for Littell and the Twins in the sixth, as he surrendered another leadoff double to Profar, the first batter he faced for the third time. Robinson Chirinos followed with a two-run homer to chase Littell, who allowed three runs (two earned) over four innings in his role as the primary pitcher.

"I was encouraged by it," Littell said. "Felt much more comfortable. Really just tried to attack hitters and make them beat me. One swing kind of did it. But yeah, I felt good. A lot to build on."
Reliever Tyler Duffey was hit hard, getting charged with five runs (four earned) on four hits while recording just one out. Duffey gave up an RBI double to Shin-Soo Choo, but was hurt by an error from first baseman Chris Gimenez, which scored two runs. Nomar Mazara cranked a two-run homer to end Duffey's afternoon, but Profar also ripped a two-run homer later in the inning to make it 12-0.

The Twins didn't score until the eighth inning on a solo shot from Jake Cave, giving him a homer in three straight games. The rookie has homered 10 times in 66 games with Minnesota this year. Ehire Adrianza later plated a run with an RBI single.

Gimenez, who pitched for the Twins six times last year, allowed five runs in the eighth with Mazara connecting on a solo homer and Drew Robinson hitting a three-run homer. It gave Texas a club-record 13 extra-base hits, which also tied a Major League-high this year. Gimenez got two runs back with a homer in the ninth, his first of the year, technically becoming the first Twins pitcher to homer since Jim Kaat in 1972.

So, while it was an ugly game that opened with Moya and closed with a position player pitching, Molitor said they'll continue to try the strategy.
"It's one game," Molitor said. "You're hoping to get a chance to get through the first inning unscathed and we didn't. As far as moving forward, there are going to be more people to get opportunities in those situations. We just have to keep trying to find the right guy to get the game started and on a good note."
BELISLE, REED EJECTED
Reliever Matt Belisle, making his return from the 10-day disabled list, hit Adrian Beltre near the elbow with his third pitch in the sixth and was ejected by home-plate umpire Alan Porter. Belisle, who is trying a new armslot, pleaded his case that the plunking was unintentional, but had to leave the game with Busenitz replacing him and giving up a two-run homer to the next batter.

"It was just complete and genuine, authentically, not intentional," Belisle said. "I was just taken aback. I just wanted to make sure I told him towards the end there, the umpire, that with everything I am as a man, I'm giving you the truth. I just dropped my arm angle a little bit and that ball ran away from me. I was able to gesture over to Beltre. He looked back at me and understood it too."
Fellow reliever Addison Reed was also ejected after the seventh inning. Reed, who gave up a run keyed by a triple from Carlos Tocci, argued with Porter after the inning and was tossed for the first time in his career. He wanted to let Porter know that Belisle didn't hit Beltre on purpose.
"I think the umpires thought there was history between our teams," Molitor said. "Didn't make any sense to me, and the aesthetics of the three-home run inning. I can tell you we had no intent to hit Beltre and it certainly wasn't on our radar because of the way the game was going or anything that happened in the past."
SOUND SMART
The last time the Twins gave up at least nine runs in an inning was when they surrendered 11 runs to the Astros on May 29, 2017. The 13 extra-base hits surrendered was the most since giving up since allowing 15 to the Indians on July 13, 1996.
HE SAID IT
"I felt really good. I had all four pitches going pretty well. Thought I mixed well. Threw more fastballs than I probably should have, but I'm a lot more encouraged than the last two outings. I felt like I was able to attack hitters. They made me work a little bit. But obviously it's something I've got to work on, trying to get those guys in and out of the box. But, I felt good." -- Littell, who struck out four and registered six swinging strikes in his third career appearance

UP NEXT
The Twins remain in the state of Texas, heading to Houston for a three-game series that begins on Monday at 1:10 p.m. CT. Right-hander Kyle Gibson (7-11, 3.79 ERA) is looking to bounce back, as he struggled last time out, allowing five runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Indians. The Astros start lefty Dallas Keuchel (10-10, 3.58).

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.