This didn’t look like the most auspicious matchup. The Pirates are coming off a 97-loss season and an offseason in which they made no effort to improve. They came in at 2-7, MLB’s worst record. Minnesota won 101 games last year, and spent the offseason adding guys like Josh Donaldson, Kenta Maeda, Alex Avila, Tyler Clippard, Sergio Romo, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. They came in at 7-2, tied for MLB’s second-best record.
For a while, the Pirates defied expectations, taking a 4-0 lead. But then Derek Shelton happened and the Pirates lost, 5-4.
Things were pretty strange right from the start. Cole Tucker drilled the game’s first pitch, from Twins’ lefty Lewis Thorpe, to left-center for his first home run of the year.
And they got stranger. In the second, Guillermo Heredia singled to lift his average over .100. It came in between singles by Phillip Evans and Jacob Stallings, the latter scoring Evans to make it 2-0. In the fourth, Erik Gonzalez vaulted his average over .100 with a double off the fence in right-center. It followed walks to Heredia and Stallings, driving in Heredia.
The Bucs scratched out another run in the fifth. Josh Bell singled, moved up on a passed ball and scored on a two-out single by Evans. Evans got nabbed when the Twins cut off the throw to the plate, the second Pirate runner to get thrown out. Kevin Newman earlier was thrown out by several football fields when he tried to stretch a single into a double, so the new regime doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere with that particular problem.
All this while, Derek Holland was throttling the Twins. This is a team that scored 939 runs last year. They came in batting only .233, but all of MLB is batting only .232 right now and Minnesota is second in MLB in home runs. Holland was terrific through five innings, allowing just two singles and fanning five.
But Holland ran out of gas with two out and a runner on second in the sixth. A single by Nelson Cruz brought in one run. A walk and a double by Max Kepler, just over Tucker’s head in center, brought in two more. Incomprehensibly, Shelton went to Miguel Del Pozo and his 21.60 ERA and 45.5% walk rate (for realz). Del Pozo walked the next two batters to load the bases. Due to the new three-batter minimum, Del Pozo had to remain in to pitch to the right-handed Byron Buxton and Del Pozo wild pitched in the tying run. And he went ahead and walked Buxton anyway. The final evaluation for Del Pozo: 18 pitches, six strikes, 57.1% walk rate. Shelton belatedly brought in Chris Stratton, who got the third out with one pitch.
The Pirates’ offense got only one more baserunner after the fifth. Stratton and Richard Rodriguez pitched scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth. Nick Burdi came on for the ninth, his first appearance in six days. The first two runners reached on a single and a walk, and moved up on a line drive out to right. Nelson Cruz then doubled to end the game. The Bucs are now 2-8 and losers of five in a row.