Red-hot Twins offense doused by Mariners’ George Kirby

20 July 2023

SEATTLE — The Twins started Thursday’s series finale against the Mariners with one of the hottest offenses in baseball, averaging seven runs a game while going 5-1 on a seven-game road trip.

The Twins had been hitting .287 as a team since returning from the All-Star break, with 10 doubles, 14 home runs and a +14 run differential. They also had taken two of three from the Mariners in their four-game series.

George Kirby put an end to all that.

The Mariners right-hander shut down the Twins, allowing just four hits while striking out 10 and walking none over seven innings in Seattle’s 5-0 victory at T-Mobile Park.

“He came as advertised,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We knew he was a hard-throwing strike-thrower, throws fastballs that do different things and just attacks the zone real well.”

Kirby (9-8) didn’t allow a hit until Matt Wallner squibbed a single to left in the fourth inning. His 10 strikeouts and zero walks were career highs.

Against Mariners ace Luis Castillo on Wednesday, the Twins worked hard at extending the right-hander’s pitch count so it could get to the bullpen, and it worked in a 6-3 victory. But not Thursday against Kirby.

“He just doesn’t throw balls,” Baldelli said. “If you know a guy’s going to be in the zone, or you think he’s going to be, and he is in the zone, you have to swing. You have to be ready. The alternative is, it’s a waste to go up there and put yourself behind in the count by just taking strikes. That’s the way I saw it, at least.”

Kirby didn’t hand the ball over to the bullpen until the eighth inning

Wallner, a rookie outfielder from Forest Lake, had two of the Twins’ four hits, each an opposite-field single, in his first game playing defense (right field) since being called up from St. Paul on Friday.

Seattle jumped on Twins starter Pablo López early, loading the bases in the first on two singles and a walk and nobody out. López danced deftly out of the jam, but not before allowing a run on Teoscar Hernández’s single.

“They made me work, and we were able to limit the damage to one run, but my pitch count went very high,” López said. “Luckily, I was able to, at least after that, give the bullpen and the team four more innings.”

Hernandez started the fourth with a homer off López (5-6), who left after five innings with the Twins down just two runs. But Minnesota couldn’t get anything going against Kirby. Three of their hits, including Kyle Farmer’s fifth-inning triple, came with two outs.

Oliver Ortega kept the Mariners off the board for 1⅔ innings before being relieved by Jorge López, who got Julio Rodriguez on a grounder to short to end the seventh but imploded in the eighth.

Jorge López allowed a Eugenio Suárez single, then a long home run to Mike Ford to make it 4-0 with no outs. He fanned Hernández for the first out and Cade Marlowe for out No. 2, but loaded the bases with three hit batsmen and was pulled for right-hander Cole Sands.

“That wasn’t a good appearance,” Baldelli said. “More than the results, being able to stay composed and being able to regroup when things aren’t going well — that should be more of a focus.”

It was Jorge López’s first rocky appearance since returning from a 15-day stint on the injured list for his mental wellness. Before Thursday, he had allowed two runs on three hits and one walk in 5⅓ innings of relief. After giving up Ford’s homer, López fanned Hernández, hit Cal Raleigh with a curveball, struck out Marlowe and hit Ty France and Jose Caballero to load the bases.

France and Caballero were hit by sinkers that rode in on the hitters, the former a righty and the latter a lefty.

“I just lost that pitch. I lost it with the hitters,” López said. “That was the plan, (and) I just lost it.”

The Twins are trying to work López back with relatively low-leverage situations.

“It’s definitely the right ballgame for him to be in right now,” Baldelli said. “He just went out there and it didn’t go in the direction he wanted it to, and he didn’t regroup fast enough or well enough right there. So we wanted to get him out of there and get Sands in the game.”

Facing leadoff hitter J.P. Crawford for his first batter, Sands threw a wild pitch that allowed Raleigh to score from third for a 5-0 lead before he struck out Rodriguez to end the inning.

Paul Sewald gave up a bloop single to Donovan Solano but closed out the ninth without drama, striking out Byron Buxton looking to end the game. Buxton, who was given two days off to clear his head after an 0-for-22 skid, batted in the fifth spot and went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.

An American League starting All-Star last season, Buxton is now 0 for his past 25 with 15 strikeouts.

“Everyone on this team has watched him for years; there’s no one that can do the things he can do,” Baldelli said of his designated hitter. “Right now, getting to that point in his swing and getting to these positions that normally lead to a lot of success, it’s been challenging for him to get into those spots physically. But he’s going to keep working.”

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