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Jose Berrios finally provides Twins with an ace-like performance; Ryan Jeffers impresses in debut

Jose Berrios
Minnesota Twins pitcher Jose Berrios throws against the Milwaukee Brewers in the third inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — Jose Berrios’ first five starts of this pandemic-shortened season were underwhelming. While Kenta Maeda and Randy Dobnak were pitching like top of the rotation guys, Berrios posted a 5.92 ERA, worked as many as six innings only once and won one game while losing three.

Not exactly what the Twins expected from their Opening Day starter and the guy they expect to be the ace of their staff. Berrios’ low point might have come in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader against Kansas City. He gave up four runs, five hits and walked a season high four in a 4-2 loss to the Royals.

On Thursday, Berrios went to work on redeeming himself. Facing a Brewers team that scored nine runs against the Twins the night before, Berrios gave up one hit in six shutout innings, walking only one and striking out nine in a 7-1 victory over Milwaukee at Target Field. Berrios did not allow a batter to reach until Keston Hiura walked in the fourth inning and the Brewers’ first hit did not come until Eric Sogard singled to center in the fifth.

“When I came to the ballpark, I said, ‘Today’s the day, so I need to do it now. I can’t wait anymore time,'” said Berrios, who made an adjustment before his Aug. 9 start at Kansas City when he shifted more toward the third base side of the rubber. “I bring my 100 percent for every pitch, so I think that pays off tonight on the mound.”

This was the Berrios the Twins need to see if they are going to make a playoff run in 2020. Berrios’ dominance of the Brewers gave him a rare August gem, a month when he is usually at this worst. What’s odd is that Berrios’ struggles in August (7-10 with a career-worst 5.88 ERA in 24 starts entering Thursday) are usually attributed to him wearing out, but that’s no excuse when this season did not start until July 24.

Berrios was effective from the outset Thursday, getting two strikeouts in the first inning and six through the first three innings. He struck out two batters in each inning in the first four.

“He was absolutely at the top of his game in pretty much every way,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “When he’s really crisp with his fastball … the fastball and the fastball life were excellent. His ability to command it to both sides of the plate, from where I’m standing, excellent. He was able to really implement some of those breaking balls with a little more downward action. He commanded it very well, changeup was good. We can dissect it all the way around. It was a tremendous night for him. We’ve seen this guy many times over and that’s the guy we remember. It doesn’t get any better than what we saw.”

Here are nine other tidbits from a victory that gave the Twins (17-9) a half-game lead on Cleveland and a two-game lead on the White Sox in the AL Central.

  1. Catcher Ryan Jeffers, who was brought over from the Twins’ alternate training site in St. Paul to replace the injured Mitch Garver, made an immediate impression in his  big-league debut. Jeffers’ singled to left on a Brandon Woodruff sinker in his first at-bat to score Ildemaro Vargas from third to give the Twins a 1-0 lead in the third inning. Jeffers, who hit ninth in the order, also singled to left in his second at-bat in the fifth inning and ended the night 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run. “Being over here for summer camp (in July), really helped me with my nerves today,” Jeffers said. “I felt comfortable here, in the locker room, in the clubhouse, around the field with the guys. For me it was just another game of baseball. Everyone always says, ‘Just go out there, it’s the same game,’ and it really is. That’s just how you have to treat it every day.”
  2. Jeffers, 23, a second-round pick in 2018 by the Twins, was asked about making his debut in a season in which no fans are allowed into games. “This whole season is full of things that aren’t normal,” he said. “It’s kind of one of the things you have to roll with. For me, honestly, I was talking to my wife a little bit about it. Having the stadium empty, not having the pressure of the fans out there, might honestly make that debut a little easier. It might not stir up as many nerves (as it would) if you’ve got a full stadium of 40,000 people hollering at you. It’s just another one of those things that COVID throws at you that you’ve got to roll with.”
  3.  Eddie Rosario tried to score from first base on Miguel Sano’s fifth double of the home stand in the fourth inning but was thrown out at the plate as Orlando Arica took Brock Holt’s throw from left and fired a perfect strike to catcher Manny Pina. Rosario attempted to touch the plate with his left hand as he slid in head first but Pina was able to apply the tag. The call by plate umpire Jerry Meals was upheld after being reviewed.
  4. The Twins had Jake Cave on first and Sano on third with two outs in the fourth when Ehire Adrianza popped up foul on the third base side. Sogard, the Brewers’ third baseman, pursued the ball as it headed toward the stands and launched himself into the protective netting to make a nice catch. The netting is key because players know it will stop them from going into the seats.
  5. Nelson Cruz came to the plate with the Twins leading 1-0 and the bases loaded in the fifth inning. Cruz, who entered Thursday 11-for-20 with three home runs and 17 RBIs with runners in scoring position, hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning as Woodruff let out a yell. In the seventh, Cruz came to the plate again with Max Kepler on first and the Twins leading 2-1. This time he hit a Freddy Peralta curveball over the right field fence for his ninth homer of the season.
  6. The Brewers had pulled within one before Cruz’s homer because Justin Smoak hit a solo home run to left field in the top of the seventh. Smoak’s third homer of the season was noteworthy because it came off Twins reliever Tyler Duffey. Duffy entered the game having given up no runs and only four hits in nine innings and nine appearances. The reliever kept the damage to a minimum by retiring the two hitters after Smoak to get out of the inning.
  7. Vargas’s triple to right-center field in the third inning was the first of the season for the Twins in their 26th game.
  8. Sano had an interesting home stand at the plate. He had 12 strikeouts to go along with his five doubles in 21 at-bats. Sano did not hit a home run. His other at-bats resulted in two singles, a foul out to third and a fielder’s choice.
  9. The Twins completed their seven-game home stand with a 5-2 record and are 12-3 at Target Field. That means they are halfway through their home schedule. Minnesota, which will begin a 10-game road trip with a three-game series on Friday night in Kansas City, is 5-6 on the road.