MINNEAPOLIS — The strikeout totals for Minnesota’s batters have been alarming. The Twins already set a club record for the most strikeouts in a season, and that number continues to grow.
In Friday’s 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay, it was the strikeouts Minnesota’s hitters simply sat and watched that bothered manager Ron Gardenhire.
The Twins struck out 11 times against the visiting Rays, including seven by Tampa rookie Chris Archer. Of those 11 strikeouts, Minnesota was caught looking four times — including twice with runners in scoring position.
“Too many punchouts for our baseball team again,” Gardenhire said.
After outfielder Darin Mastroianni was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Twins had runners on first and second with just one out as they trailed the Rays 2-0. But Clete Thomas watched as a called strike three sailed through the zone for out No. 2. The next batter, shortstop Eduardo Escobar, did the same thing against Archer. Escobar didn’t pick the bat off his shoulder as Archer’s 1-2 changeup found the strike zone for the third out of the inning.
Minnesota’s batters entered Friday’s game with the second-most strikeouts in all of baseball, trailing only the Houston Astros. It wasn’t just the number of times the Twins struck out Friday that bothered Gardenhire, but the timing and the way in which they happened.
“You have to defend the plate if you get two strikes on you,” Gardenhire said. “You have to swing. You have to fight the ball off. You have to swing the bat. We’ve got too many guys taking pitches like that. I know hitting’s not easy. I’ve been there, and if you’ve ever been out there it’s not easy with a guy throwing that well. But you have to defend the plate in those situations. You have to put the ball in play. You have no chance when you don’t swing.”
Correia earns tough loss: Twins right-hander Kevin Correia has been perhaps Minnesota’s most consistent starting pitcher this year. That’s certainly been the case over his last seven starts, as he’s gone at least six innings in each of them with a 2.87 ERA during that span.
But the 11-year veteran wasn’t given any favors by his offense Friday as he earned his 12th loss of the year when Minnesota’s offense failed to score a run. Correia allowed three runs on eight hits over six innings and pitched into the seventh. While Correia didn’t quite match the performance of Rays starter Chris Archer, he kept his team in the game.
“Kevin Correia did a nice job for us,” Gardenhire said. “He gave us an opportunity to win a ballgame. We just offensively did nothing.”
Correia has now thrown 173 ⅓ innings in his first year with the Twins. While he’s never reached the 200-inning mark in his 11-year career, Correia said that was his goal to get close to that mark in 2013.
He may get one or two more starts in September to get closer, but he’ll likely ultimately fall short.
“I’ve gone deep in the majority of my games,” Correia said. “I had a couple obviously incredibly short starts that usually doesn’t happen. I think I’ve had I wouldn’t say a bad or a great year. I think I’ve kept us in a lot of games. It’s tough. Once we improve a little, what I came over here to do was stabilize. I was able to stay healthy and stay out there. Cross your fingers, I’ve still got a couple more.”
Thielbar pitches an odd inning: When Correia left the game after facing three batters in the seventh inning, he did so with a pair of Rays batters on first and third and nobody out. Tampa Bay scored a run in the inning before Correia’s night was done.
In came left-hander Caleb Thielbar to attempt to clean up the mess. In what certainly didn’t appear to be an easy situation, Thielbar made it look that way. The Randolph, Minn., native and former St. Paul Saint needed just three pitches to record three outs and escape the inning without allowing a run.
Thielbar got Ben Zobrist to pop out to first baseman Chris Parmelee on the first pitch he threw. Parmelee was able to double off Yunel Escobar at third base for a double play.
With two outs, Thielbar got ahead of James Lone 0-2 on two pitches before picking off David DeJesus at first base for the final out of the inning. Three pitches, three outs for the Twins reliever.
“That was the Houdini act,” Correia said of Thielbar. “I definitely came out of the game thinking if only one run scores, he did a good job. To have none score in that situation, it’s an unbelievable job by him.”