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The second guess: Three Rocco Baldelli moves in Game 1 that left us perplexed

Rocco Baldelli, Dusty Baker, J.
Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, right, and Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, Jr. greet each other before the first inning of an American League wild-card series baseball game Tuesday, Sept 29, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The Twins’ 4-1 loss to the Astros on Tuesday afternoon in their first-round playoff game at Target Field contained plenty of instances where key decisions were made. Some made sense, some didn’t. Here are three by Twins manager Rocco Baldelli that we questioned.
Starter Kenta Maeda was fantastic through three innings, giving up one hit and one walk and never finding himself in trouble. The fourth inning was a different story as Maeda began to struggle to control his fastball and loaded the bases on two walks and a single. The righthander’s pace slowed and his pitch count grew, but with two outs he struck out Josh Reddick to get out of the inning.
The righthander had thrown 81 pitches at that point and came back out for the fifth. It was as if the fourth inning had never happened. Maeda got Martin Maldonado to strike out swinging, George Springer hit a fly ball to center and Jose Altuve popped to first. Maeda walked off the mound having thrown 10 pitches.
He did not return.
Trevor May replaced him and threw 11 pitches before he was lifted for Tyler Duffey, who gave up the tying run in the seventh. Lifting Maeda didn’t cost the Twins the game, but it made little sense. Ninety-one pitches isn’t a deal-breaker for him and this was one appearance in the series. He got the Game 1 start because he’s the Twins ace, and his ability to work out of a jam only solidified that fact.
So why not bring him out for another inning?
The Astros had tied the score 1-1 in the top of the seventh and rookie catcher Ryan Jeffers was set to lead off for Minnesota in the bottom of the inning. Jeffers had been the last hitter to face Astros starter Zack Greinke before he was removed after four and had put together a quality at-bat.
Jeffers turned it into a nine-pitch at-bat before he lined to left on a 2-2 changeup. But instead of sending up the righthanded-hitting Jeffers to face lefty Framber Valdez, Baldelli had Mitch Garver pinch-hit. Garver saw four curveballs and took the final one, on a 1-2 pitch, for strike three.
Garver, who hit 31 home runs last season, had a miserable and injury filled year. He slashed .167/.247/.264 with two homers and five RBIs in 23 games. Jeffers isn’t Johnny Bench but having Garver hit for him in that situation didn’t make much sense.
Garver had hit for Jeffers and Baldelli then put Alex Avila in to catch in the eighth inning. That meant the Twins had used three of the four catchers (that’s right, four catchers) on their roster and Baldelli made it 4-for-4 in the ninth when he had Willians Astudillo pinch-hit for Avila with runners on first and second and one out.
As Astudillo, who was added to the playoff roster on Tuesday after being optioned off the 28-man roster during the season, approached the plate, my first thought was this: Ideal double play guy and I bet he swings at the first pitch.
So, Astudillo got in the box, swung at the first pitch and grounded into a third to first double play. There’s a few things I don’t get about this and the first starts with the decision making by the Twins’ brass. Why not have LaMonte Wade Jr., on the roster instead of Astudillo?
Wade takes more professional at-bats than Astudillo and he can play outfield and first base. Astudillo can catch and serve as a utility infielder and emergency outfielder. But the Twins don’t need an emergency outfielder and Ehire Adrianza has them covered as a utility infielder.
As far as Baldelli’s decision, was Astudillo really going to give you the best at-bat in that situation? Honestly, it would have been a better idea to have Jeffers take that at-bat against Valdez and that would have been the case if he hadn’t been lifted in the first place.