Starting Pitcher: Louie Varland, 7.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K (86 pitches, 66 strikes, 76.7%)
Home Runs: none
Top 3 WPA: Louie Varland (.229), Donovan Solano (.184), Ryan Jeffers (.095)
Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs)
Early offense (finally!) delivers with the bases loaded
Rookie starter Hunter Brown took the mound for Houston, hoping to carry on his solid season thus far. Instead, the Twins’ offense drove his pitch count up early and did some bases-loaded damage to back up Louie Varland. Though the offense went down in order in the first two innings of the game, a 12-pitch at-bat from Alex Kirilloff in the first had Brown reaching 21 pitches to end the inning. Meanwhile, Varland needed only 17 pitches to cruise through two, and he got some run support right away.
The bottom third of the Twins’ lineup ambushed Brown in the third, with the first three Minnesota batters reaching: after Max Kepler and Willi Castro hit back-to-back singles, Michael A. Taylor drew a four-pitch walk to load them up. Before tonight’s game, the Twins had gone 5-for-46 (.109) with the bases juiced this season – the worst batting average in said situations. Could they break the slump?
Édouard Julien struck out next for the first out, but Donovan Solano didn’t waste his opportunity and snapped a team 0-for-14 skid with the bases loaded. He slapped a single to shallow right to score Kepler and Castro and send Taylor to third. Then, Kirilloff came through with a chopper to the gap at short to push Taylor across and make it 3-0 Minnesota.
Bats cash in with the bases loaded again; Varland still cruising
Despite closing in on 80 pitches, Brown remained in the game, and the Twins took advantage of that once again. After coming out of the fourth empty-handed, Minnesota’s offense added on in the fifth. Solano and Kyle Farmer reached on a one-out walk and a two-out single. But with Brown surpassing the 100-pitch mark, he was pulled from the game with two outs.
Facing reliever Parker Mushinski, Joey Gallo got hit in the elbow on the very first pitch of the at-bat, and suddenly, the bases were loaded again. Red-hot Jeffers, who had been slashing .400/.500/.867 in the previous seven games, made Mushinski pay: he smacked a long double to center that would’ve been a bases-clearing hit had it not one-hopped into the bullpen and been ruled a ground-rule double. Solano and Farmer scored, making it 5-0 Twins. This was the first time in the season that the Twins got two bases-loaded hits in the same game.
Varland continued to dominate the Astros lineup with ease, completing five scoreless on only 53 pitches. He also continued to be rewarded for his superb performance with more run support. Castro and Taylor opened the top of the sixth with a single and a walk against Mushinski, and the offense was at it again. Solano crushed a double to left to bring home both runners and make it 7-0 Minnesota.
Varland completes seven, a career-high
Heck, even when Varland wasn’t so sharp, he got some more run support. After recording the first two outs in the bottom of the sixth on only nine pitches, the Minnesota native lost the next two batters to a single and a walk, his first of the night. He got the force out in the following at-bat and kept the zero on the scoreboard, but not before throwing 20 pitches in the inning, his longest one of the night.
The offense added on against reliever Seth Martinez in the top of the seventh. Castro drew a two-out walk, stole second, then was pushed across by a Taylor double to center, making it 8-0 Minnesota. Varland came back for the home half of the inning with only 73, and he delivered yet another scoreless frame to complete seven shutout innings. Before tonight’s game, Varland’s longest start of his young career had been the 6 1/3 he tossed against the Cubs earlier this month.
Jorge López continues to struggle badly
Having allowed earned runs in three of his previous four games, Jorge López came into the game in the eighth hoping to get back on track after an awful month of May. Unfortunately, he would end up having what was maybe his worst outing as a Twin. Jake Meyers hit a leadoff home run on the very first pitch of the inning, which was followed by another home run next, by Yainer Díaz, scoring Houston’s second run.
He then lost Mauricio Dubón on a ten-pitch walk and hit Jeremy Peña on the fingers next, giving Houston the chance to cut the lead down to only three on a swing of the bat. Rocco Baldelli decided to bring Brock Stewart in before López could record an out. Stewart did a phenomenal job by striking out the side on 13 pitches to shut down the Astros’ rally. López, who didn’t allow a single run during his March and April outings, ends the month of May with a 9.00 ERA.
José De León pitched around a hit batter in the bottom of the ninth, and with that, the Twins secured only their second road series win on the season, the first one since the Royals series that opened the season for the Twins.
The Twins head back home, where they’ll start a four-game series against the Cleveland Guardians at Target Field. The series opener is scheduled for 6:40 pm CDT on Thursday (6/1), with Pablo López (3-3, 4.11 ERA) set to make the start for Minnesota and Tanner Bibee (1-1, 2.88 ERA) toeing the rubber for Cleveland.
Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet