By Mike Cook, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Nearly two years since his last time on a big league mound, Michael Pineda looked better than ever in his Minnesota Twins debut.
Pineda was stellar in his first appearance since 2017, Nelson Cruz hit his first homer with the club and the Twins beat the Cleveland Indians 9-3 on Sunday.
Pineda had Tommy John surgery after his previous start July 5, 2017 while with the New York Yankees, and this was his first time pitching in a regular season game. Pineda pitched four scoreless innings, striking out five with one hit and one walk.
“It was a big day for me and everybody here because we won the game, you know? But especially for me, because before my start today I hadn’t pitched for like a year and a half. I’m very happy,” Pineda said.
Signed by Minnesota in December 2017, Pineda earned $2 million last season while rehabbing his elbow in hopes he could be a stabilizing force in 2019, when his salary jumped to $8 million.
Intimidating at 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, Pineda struck out five of the first nine Cleveland hitters, including three in the third on 11 pitches. He was pulled after throwing 40 pitches, 28 strikes.
With five days off in the season’s first 15 days, Minnesota had planned to have Pineda and Martin Perez, Minnesota’s fifth starter, split the game.
“We always want to get quick outs, especially today in the cold weather,” Pineda said. “I feel so good because I only threw 40 pitches. That gave me a little rest for my next outing.”
Perez (1-0), pitched 3 2/3 innings and was one pitch away from getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth before Carlos Santana lined a shot into the left-field corner. Santana had four hits.
Twins starters allowed one earned run in 17 1/3 innings in the season-opening series. Jose Berrios pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings Thursday, and Jake Odorizzi allowed one run in six innings Saturday. Berrios struck out 10 and Odorizzi 11, making Minnesota the second team since 1893 to open the season with their first two starts each striking out at least 10.
“In those really good environments where you get staffs that really get it done, that’s what it looks like. That’s a good competitiveness and competitive environment,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Cruz, Byron Buxton and Willians Astudillo each drove in two runs for the Twins.
Cleveland hitters struck out 39 times in the three-game series.
“It’s the first series, so I not worried for that. We go back home now for opening day, a new series, so we see what happens,” Santana said.
Hitting 6 for 56 entering the game, the Twins finished with 15 hits, including 10 in 4 1/3 innings against starter Carlos Carrasco (0-1), who struggled with his breaking ball in the 34-degree weather and allowed six runs and struck out four.
“Just kind of flat on some,” he said.
A two-run double by Buxton gave Minnesota a 3-0 lead in the fourth.
One inning later, Cruz smashed a two-run drive off the second deck. Cruz has hit 37 homers in each of the past five seasons. He signed a $14.3 million, one-year deal with Minnesota in the offseason.
An RBI double by Jonathan Schoop keyed a three-run eighth an 8-0 cushion.
Astudillo, the Twins catcher, threw out Santana at first after a grounder to the second baseman.
Schoop ranged far to his left to grab Santana’s grounder and his off-balance throw was wide of first baseman C.J. Cron. Following the runner, the burly Astudillo grabbed a carom off the fencing in front of the dugout and threw out Santana, who had turned toward second and was diving back into first base.
Astudillo was 2 for 2, raising his career batting average to .368 in 100 plate appearances. That’s the highest average in major league history among players with at least 100 plate appearances, just ahead of Ty Cobb (.366).
Twins: Manager Rocco Baldelli had nothing new to report on the quartet of Twins placed on 10-day injured list before opening day: 3B Miguel Sano (right heel laceration), LHP Gabriel Moya (left shoulder tendinitis), RHP Matt Magill (right shoulder tendinitis) and RHP Addison Reed (left thumb sprain). He anticipates providing some sort of update in a couple days.
Indians: RHP Mike Clevinger (13-8, 3.02 in 2018) will get the ball for Cleveland’s home opener Monday against the White Sox. Chicago is to send Ivan Nova (9-9, 4.19 in 2018) to the hill.
Twins: RHP Jose Berrios (1-0, 0.00) will make his second start of the season when Minnesota begins a seven-game trip Tuesday in Kansas City. Berrios tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings and had 10 strikeouts in Thursday’s season opener. RHP Brad Keller (1-0, 0.00) is scheduled for the Royals.
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