With big contracts come big expectations, and Ricky Nolasco is no exception.
Nolasco signed a four-year, $49 million deal with Minnesota this past winter, the biggest contract ever given to a free agent in Twins history. He was one of multiple pieces brought in with the hope of solidifying what had been a brutal starting rotation.
It’s only one game, but Nolasco’s Twins debut didn’t quite go as the right-hander hoped. Nolasco surrendered five runs in six innings of work — including a pair of home runs by Alejandro De Aza — as Minnesota lost the season opener 5-3 to the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. It’s the Twins’ sixth consecutive Opening Day loss.
"A couple mistakes, and De Aza made us pay a couple times," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "But other than that, I thought our starter threw the ball pretty decent. A couple mistakes and they end up in the seats."
Monday marked Nolasco’s third career Opening Day start, and his first career start in the American League. He spent the majority of his previous eight big league seasons pitching for the Marlins — including two years as a teammate of De Aza. Miami traded Nolasco to the Los Angeles Dodgers last July and he became a free agent this winter.
The contract Nolasco signed in the offseason was the type expected of a front-of-the-rotation starter. While it was never officially announced that Nolasco would be the Twins’ Opening Day pitcher, his starts during spring training were lined up to put him in position to pitch in Monday’s game.
After a scoreless first inning for Nolasco, he allowed two runs in each of the next two innings. Chicago opened the scoring on a two-run home run by Alejandro De Aza, who took a Nolasco slider deep to right for a 2-0 White Sox lead. De Aza’s blast came with two outs after Nolasco was able to induce a double play off the bat of Avisail Garcia.
The Twins tied things up in the top of the third thanks to another new face, catcher Kurt Suzuki, who drove in all three runs for Minnesota in Monday’s loss. His two-out base hit to left plated a pair to give Nolasco a few runs of support. That 2-all tie was short-lived, however, as new Chicago first baseman Jose Abreu singled home a run to help the White Sox regain the lead in the bottom of the inning. Abreu connected with a pitch down and in and took it to left field for his second hit of the game.
One batter later, Adam Dunn hit a pop fly in foul territory. Twins shortstop Pedro Florimon battled the wind and tracked the ball down, but Chicago’s Conor Gillaspie tagged from third base and beat Florimon’s throw to the plate to put Nolasco and the Twins in a 4-2 hole.
Nolasco pitched through the sixth inning, but not before De Aza got the best of him once again. Chicago’s left fielder hit a solo shot in the bottom of the eighth off his former Marlins teammate to extend the lead to 5-2. For De Aza, it was his first multi-homer game of his career.
"I felt great. I thought I made a lot of good pitches," Nolasco said after the game. "I tried to throw a cutter there in the (second) inning to try to get him to hit some foul, but it stayed middle. . . . The next time he kind of just jumped me on the fastball. Just tip your cap."
Nolasco’s day was done after the inning, as he allowed five earned runs on 10 hits while striking out four and walking two on 93 pitches. While Minnesota’s bullpen pitched a pair of scoreless innings after Nolasco’s exit, the Twins’ offense — stymied most of the game by Chicago ace Chris Sale — managed just one more run as Nolasco picked up the loss.
The hope is that Nolasco can give the Twins plenty of innings this season, something that Minnesota’s starting pitchers weren’t able to do in 2013 as they threw the fewest innings of any rotation. Nolasco has topped 200 innings twice in his previous eight seasons and came up just shy of that mark in 2013 (199 1/3 IP).
Minnesota hasn’t won an Opening Day game since March 31, 2008. The Twins and White Sox now have a day off Tuesday before resuming their series on Wednesday in Chicago.
FOX Sports North’s Jamie Hersch contributed to this report.