MINNEAPOLIS — When the Indians take the field today for their home opener against the Chicago White Sox, some introductions will be in order.
No, not of the new players on the roster to the fans at Progressive Field, but a more crucial introduction for the team’s success, something along the lines of: Bat, meet ball.
In the early going of the season, those two have been relative strangers.
Sunday the Indians struck out 13 times in a 9-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins, marking the third time in three games the Indians have struck out 13 times.
Not that anyone’s panicking just yet.
“Well, they’re not helpful to win,” Francona said of the whiffs. “I think we’ve got some veterans that are struggling a little bit the first couple of games and we’ve got some young guys that are trying to get their feet on the ground. It’s always a fight when you have weather like this. It feels colder when you’re losing.
But we’ll be OK. Like I said, it’s not fun to sit through it like that and watch guys strike out. That’ll turn around.”
Carlos Santa agreed, probably because his hitting was just fine Sunday.
“It’s the first series, so I’m not worried for that,” said Santana, who had four of the Indians’ six hits Sunday and drove in all their runs with a bases-loaded double in the eighth inning after the Tribe already trailed 8-0. “We go back home now for opening day, a new series, so we see what happens.”
Not much happened offensively in the first series of the season for the Indians (1-2), who are at the bottom of the major leagues in hitting with a .133 (12-for-90) batting average and tied for last with five runs. They were shut out in the opener, scored two in a win Saturday and three Sunday.
Sunday’s struggles came against a pitcher who hadn’t been on a big league mound in nearly two years.
But Michael Pineda dominated in his first appearance since 2017, allowing one hit in four scoreless innings with five strikeouts and a walk. Pineda had Tommy John surgery after his previous start July 5, 2017, while with the New York Yankees.
“It was a big day for me and everybody here because we won the game, you know?,” Pineda said. “But especially for me, because before my start today I hadn’t pitched for like a year and a half. I’m very happy.”
Signed by Minnesota in December 2017, Pineda earned $2 million last season while rehabbing his elbow in hopes he could be a stabilizing force this year, when his salary jumped to $8 million.
Intimidating at 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, Pineda struck out five of the first nine hitters, including three in the third on 11 pitches. He was pulled after throwing 40 pitches, 28 strikes.
With five days off in the season’s first 15 days, Minnesota had planned to have Pineda and Martin Perez, Minnesota’s fifth starter, split the game.
“We always want to get quick outs, especially today in the cold weather,” Pineda said. “I feel so good because I only threw 40 pitches. That gave me a little rest for my next outing.”
Perez (1-0) pitched 3 2/3 innings and was one pitch away from getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth before Santana lined a shot into the left-field corner.
Twins starters allowed one earned run in 17 1/3 innings in the series. Jose Berrios pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings Thursday, and Jake Odorizzi allowed one run in six innings Saturday. Berrios struck out 10 and Odorizzi 11, making Minnesota the second team since 1893 to open the season with their first two starts each striking out at least 10.
“In those really good environments where you get staffs that really get it done, that’s what it looks like,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That’s a good competitiveness and competitive environment.”
Nelson Cruz, Byron Buxton and Willians Astudillo each drove in two runs for the Twins, who came into the game 6-for-56 at the plate but banged out with 15 hits, including 10 in 4 1/3 innings against starter Carlos Carrasco (0-1), who struggled with his breaking ball in the 34-degree weather and allowed six runs and struck out four.
“Just kind of flat on some,” Carrasco said.
Buxton gave Minnesota a 3-0 lead in the fourth with a two-run double and an inning later Cruz smashed a two-run drive off the second deck. Cruz has hit 37 homers in each of the past five seasons. He signed a $14.3 million, one-year deal with Minnesota in the offseason.
Jonathan Schoop’s RBI double keyed a three-run eighth to put the Twins up 8-0.
Astudillo, Minnesota’s catcher, threw out Santana at first after a grounder to the second baseman.
Schoop ranged far to his left to grab Santana’s grounder and his off-balance throw was wide of first baseman C.J. Cron. Following the runner, the burly Astudillo grabbed a carom off the fencing in front of the dugout and threw out Santana, who had turned toward second and was diving back into first base.
Astudillo was 2-for-2, raising his career batting average to .368 in 100 plate appearances. That’s the highest average in major league history among players with at least 100 plate appearances, just ahead of Ty Cobb (.366).
INDIANS: Right-hander Mike Clevinger (13-8, 3.02 in 2018) will get the ball for Cleveland’s home opener today against the White Sox. Righty Ivan Nova (9-9, 4.19) will start for the Sox.
TWINS: Right-hander Jose Berrios (1-0, 0.00) will make his second start of the season when Minnesota begins a seven-game trip Tuesday in Kansas City. Righty Brad Keller (1-0, 0.00) is scheduled for the Royals.