No Wahoo, no runs, and no fun for the Tribe on Thursday as Minnesota’s Jose Berrios won an intense battle against Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, combining with reliever Taylor Rogers on a two-hit 2-0 Opening Day shutout from Target Field.
In a well-pitched game for both starters through six innings, the Twins capitalized on rare base runners in the seventh to take the lead and hold on for good. Kluber took a perfect game into the fifth and a no-hitter into the sixth. Three different relievers combined to throw a perfect eighth inning to keep the score at two runs, but it was too much for the Tribe to overcome in a tough day at the plate. While the Twins managed only four hits on the day, their pitching limited the Indians to just three batters over the minimum while striking out 13 in an Opening Day gem.
The seventh inning proved to be the turning point in the contest. Kluber allowed his first hit of the day in the sixth on a one-out double by Byron Buxton, but he was stranded at third on a pair of outs in the air. The next inning, they finally put together multiple hits and the last one of the three broke the scoreless tie. Nelson Cruz singled to left and, after a strikeout by Eddie Rosario, C.J. Cron singled to center. A familiar face (and known killer of the Indians), Marwin Gonzalez, gave the Twins their third straight hit from a new name on the lineup card, sending a double to center. Leonys Martin misplayed the ball attempting to cut it off from going to the wall. Cruz scored easily and Cron was able to score all the way from first after the ball passed the center fielder.
Kluber hit the next batter, Jonathan Schoop, but worked his way out of the jam in Kluber fashion, striking out Jason Castro and getting Buxton to fly out in the only difficult inning faced by either pitching staff on the day.
It was an impressive season debut for the 24-year-old Berrios, who became the youngest Opening Day starter for the Minnesota Twins since Brad Radke (23) in 1996. He kept the Indians off-balance with breaking stuff and a nasty change for his out pitch. He worked seven and two-thirds innings, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out ten Tribe hitters (a Twins Opening Day record). He threw 67 of 96 pitches for strikes, with 18 swings and misses and another 18 fouled off.
“That was impressive. Wish I wasn’t sitting here saying that,” said Francona. “He not only has velocity on his fastball, but he located and he located in enough and hard. He threw a changeup off of that. He really kind of manhandled us today.”
Berrios retired the first nine in a row before Martin doubled to lead off the fourth. Carlos Santana joined him via walk two outs later, but the pair were stranding on a strikeout by Hanley Ramirez. Berrios retired the next 12 in order before a two-out single in the eighth ended his outing.
Berrios is now 4-2 in his career against the Indians in eight starts with a 4.00 ERA. He has one win against the Indians in each of his first four big league seasons.
The left-hander Rogers handled the final four outs of the game for his third career save. He has now thrown 27 consecutive scoreless innings, obviously dating back to last season. Combined with Rogers’ three strikeouts, Twins pitching retired 13 of the 27 Indians outs via strikeout.
GET THE FIRST ONE OUT OF THE WAY
The Twins earned manager Rocco Baldelli a win in his first game as the manager in Minnesota. He replaced Hall of Famer Paul Molitor after the 2018 season, but came in with no prior managerial experience.
Baldelli spent all but one season of his professional playing career in Tampa Bay, but his tenure on the field came to a premature end at the age of 29 due to a muscular disorder. The former first round pick by the club in 2000 stayed home with the Rays organization, working as a special assistant to baseball operations and as a roving minor league instructor. He was promoted to the position of Rays’ first base coach in 2014 and moved into their field coordinator role following the 2017 season.
KLUBER CARRIES NO-NO MIDWAY THROUGH
Kluber was on cruise control for much of the first six innings before things turned for the worse in the seventh. He struck out batters in each of the first two innings and got three outs in the air in the third. He added his third strikeout of the day in the fourth and was sitting at a comfortable 41 pitches through four perfect innings. He issued a rare walk to Gonzalez, missing on four straight after a first pitch strike, to end his perfect game with two outs in the fifth after 14 straight retired to open the season. He got Schoop to fly out to strand the first runner for the Twins on the year.
Buxton’s double in the sixth ended any thought of Kluber challenging Bob Feller’s Opening Day no-no back in 1940, but the Tribe’s ace got out of the threat unscathed. The Twins were once again aggressive in their approach against Kluber, attacking early in the count with the high likelihood of first pitch strikes, but the plan backfired until later in the afternoon.
“He was so efficient. I think after three innings he had 22 pitches,” said Tribe manager Terry Francona. “Obviously, they’re trying to make early contact, but he was taking the sting out of their bats which is what you want him to do. We just got to the seventh and they strung a couple together. The last guy you want hitting off of Kluber is Marwin [Gonzalez] because he has had so much success and he rifled that one to the gap and that’s all there was.”
Kluber finished the day with seven complete innings worked, allowing two runs (both earned) on four hits with a walk, a hit batter, and five strikeouts. Now with five Opening Day starts under his belt (2015-2019), Kluber is 0-4 with a 4.01 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP (15 earned runs on 28 hits with 9 walks and 31 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings of work against Houston, Boston, Texas, Seattle, and Minnesota). He is one of just two pitchers in Indians history to make five consecutive Opening Day starts (Stan Coveleski, 1917-1921).
The Indians had some inauspicious debuts on their side of the stat sheet and did so while wearing their new navy uniform tops, similar to the road grays of years past. The sleeve formerly occupied by Chief Wahoo has been de-chiefed, with the 2019 All-Star Game logo replacing it this season.
Eric Stamets made his Major League debut, drawing the starting nod at shortstop for the injured Francisco Lindor. He hit ninth in the lineup and went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts before being lifted for pinch-hitter Greg Allen in the eighth. Max Moroff made his Indians debut as a defensive replacement for Allen in the bottom of the inning.
The Indians’ new designated hitter Ramirez went 0-for-3 in his Indians debut, striking out once. Jake Bauers went 0-for-3 in the first Opening Day game of his big league career and his first in an Indians uniform. Brad Miller was the only new guy on the roster to participate offensively – he went 1-for-3 with an eighth inning single after strikeouts in each of his first two at bats.
SALT IN THE WOUND
Outfielder Michael Brantley kicked off his first game as an Astro by matching his former team’s total hit tally in his debut, going 2-for-4 with a single and a solo home run in Houston’s 5-1 win over reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell of Tampa.
Matt Joyce, who was in camp with the Indians before being let go on March 19, had a busy spring. He signed with the San Francisco Giants the day after his release, but was traded to the Atlanta Braves four days later in a cash exchange.
The Braves added him to the big league roster on Thursday and he hit a two-run homer in his first at bat of the year.
DAY OF REST
The Indians and Twins will take a day off on Friday as part of the built-in back-up plan for inclement weather. The two will resume 2019 regular season action on Saturday afternoon in a 2:10 PM ET start.
Odorizzi will look to improve to .500 in his career with a win in his season debut. He had previously posted good numbers in his career against the Indians until last season, when he went 0-3 with a 7.23 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP in five starts.
Bauer will look to make his case for early Cy consideration on Saturday after missed time late in the 2018 campaign cost him some votes. Watch out for early season strikeout totals from Bauer, who boasts a career-best 10.2 K/9 rate in March/April action on the mound. He is 6-7 with a 4.46 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP against the Twins in his career, but is 5-2 with a 3.22 ERA in eight games (seven starts) over the last two seasons.
Photo: AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn