MINNEAPOLIS — The biggest problem plaguing the Minnesota Twins in 2012 was their starting pitching. Early in Monday’s season opener, that storyline seemed to be repeating itself.
Right-hander Vance Worley, acquired this offseason along with minor leaguer Trevor May in exchange for Ben Revere, took the ball as the Twins’ Opening Day starter. Like many Minnesota pitchers a year ago, Worley fell behind early, allowing two first-inning runs to the high-powered Tigers lineup.
Worley then gave up a run in the second inning as shortstop Jhonny Peralta scored on an Omar Infante single to give Detroit a 3-0 lead. From there, though, Worley settled down and was able to pitch four scoreless innings before leaving after six innings and 101 pitches. But the new Twins starter was hit with his first loss in a Minnesota uniform as the Tigers took the season opener by a 3-2 final.
“It would have been nice to have that the first couple innings (back),” Worley said.
It was the first chance for Twins fans to get a look at the revamped rotation, to which Worley was one of several new additions. Minnesota also signed free agent veterans Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey, who will pitch Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
After two shaky innings, the 25-year-old Worley was at his best once he was able to get his pitches down in the zone. He left too many pitches up in the first two innings and the Tigers took advantage. Torii Hunter successfully executed a hit-and-run in the top of the first to advance Austin Jackson to third base. One batter later, Jackson scored the first run of the game on a fielder’s choice. Hunter later came around to score on a double by Prince Fielder.
Just like that, Worley was in a 2-0 hole in his Twins debut. The only other run he allowed came in the second when Omar Infante singled in Jhonny Peralta for a 3-0 Detroit lead. Worley gave up just three hits over the next four innings to earn a quality start.
“He’s a gamer. He’s a guy that wants the ball. He’s going to go out there and compete, give us some innings, keep us in the game,” designated hitter Ryan Doumit said of Worley. “That’s all we can ask for. Our offense kind of let him down today. We had some opportunities and it just didn’t happen.”
Monday marked Worley’s first Opening Day start of his young major league career. He made the Phillies’ Opening Day roster last season and went 6-9 with a 4.20 ERA in 23 starts. After he was acquired by the Twins this winter, Worley was expected to help turn around the worst rotation in the American League.
It started Monday, when he took the mound at Target Field to become the Twins’ third different Opening Day starter in the last four years. Despite all the hoopla that typically surrounds the season’s first game — especially one played in 35-degree weather — Worley didn’t seem to handle the circumstances any differently.
“It felt normal,” he said. “I heard the crowd get a little loud at times, but it’s another game for me to go out there and give it everything I’ve got.”
When Worley is effective, his sinkerball is sinking. He got the ball up in the zone too many times in the first two innings to induce many ground balls, although he did escape the second inning with an inning-ending double play. From there, he got three ground ball outs in the third, one in the fourth, two in the fifth and one more in the sixth.
“That’s what I try to do, try to get quick outs. Strikeouts for me aren’t a big deal,” said Worley, who struck out three in six innings. “I’ll take them if they come, but for the most part I’m just going out there trying to get the guys to put it in play. I did what I needed to do today.”
Worley left with a 3-0 deficit, and the Twins’ offense wasn’t able to bail him out. Minnesota scored its first run in the bottom of the sixth inning and added one more in the seventh, but failed to capitalize on several opportunities — including one with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh.
So while Worley was on the hook for Minnesota’s first loss of the season, his new teammates and manager were impressed with how he went about his business in his Twins debut.
“I really love watching him out there. He works fast, he holds runners. He had a good angle, he had a nice breaking ball,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He did a nice job. He got us deep into the game like we were hoping, six innings. That was perfect.”