Newcomers deliver in Twins’ Opening Day victory
In all, Pablo Lopez pitched 5⅓ innings, striking out eight. Lopez got 17 swings and misses in total, including eight on his slider, per Statcast data.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hours before his eighth Opening Day in a Minnesota Twins uniform began, center fielder Byron Buxton sat by his locker, and took a second to answer the question posed to him.
The gist: Is this the highest expectations he’s had since he’s played for the Twins?
“Probably so,” he said.
Because while many on the outside have projected a second-place finish for the Twins in the American League Central, Buxton has been talking all spring about the pursuit of a big diamond ring.
“We’ve got the right pieces to do what we want to do — and that’s win a ring,” Buxton said.
That belief is in part because of the offseason work the front office put in, bringing in new players to complement a roster that spent much of last season in first place. On Thursday, in the Twins’ season opener, they got a good look at their newcomers, who played a big role in their 2-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
That started with their battery: right-hander Pablo Lopez, who took the ball on Opening Day for the first time in his career and showed exactly why the Twins traded batting champion Luis Arraez for him, and catcher Christian Vazquez, who guided Lopez and four relievers through the shutout.
“Obviously a lot of emotions over there, a lot of butterflies. But once I got on the mound, it’s just about doing my job,” Lopez said. “Once I’m on that mound, it’s not about Opening Day. It’s about, I’m just here executing every single pitch.”
Lopez cruised through the first few innings Thursday, facing very little trouble. In the fourth inning, he pitched out of a two-on, no-outs situation; and in the fifth, after loading the bases, first baseman Joey Gallo, another new Twin, corralled a grounder headed his way, rifled it to Vazquez at home for an out and then Vazquez threw to second baseman Nick Gordon at first for an inning-ending double play.
In all, Lopez pitched 5⅓ innings, striking out eight. The last batter he faced, Salvador Perez, who caught him recently at the World Baseball Classic, swung through a fastball out of the zone to end his day. Lopez got 17 swings and misses in total, including eight on his slider, per Statcast data.
“I saw a good shape in the bullpen,” Vazquez said. “It was like, ‘We need to throw that.’ It’s a lot of hitters in this lineup that we threw it (to).”
Lopez got some offensive backing in the sixth inning, when Buxton led off with a triple and Trevor Larnach, as part of a two-hit day, launched a single up the middle to bring him home.
After the Royals turned to their bullpen, opting for lefty Amir Garrett, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli countered with a pair of newcomers — Kyle Farmer and Donovan Solano — off the bench, and they delivered. Farmer walked before Solano, whom the Twins brought in to hit against lefties, delivered an RBI single.
“Our guys, what they do, the skills that they have, I think they fit very well together right now with our roster,” Baldelli said.
And from there, after the final out from Lopez in the sixth, the bullpen took over. Caleb Thielbar threw a scoreless inning, Jorge Lopez got a pair of outs, Griffin Jax handled the eighth and Jhoan Duran locked down the save to give the Twins a season-opening win and Lopez his first win as a Twin.
“There were a lot of highlights,” Baldelli said. “ … It’s hard not to talk about Pablo Lopez … and his debut here. What else do you want? … His stuff was excellent and he was composed and he did a really nice job.”
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