New Twins on the block make good first impression
Deadline acquisitions Sandy Leon, Michael Fulmer and Jorge Lopez help beat Tigers 4-1.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Like a child with a box full of new toys, manager Rocco Baldelli wasted little time putting the Minnesota Twins’ deadline acquisitions to work. And what do you know, they all came with batteries and ready to work.
New catcher Sandy Leon doubled in a pair of runs in his first at-bat, and new arms Michael Fulmer and Jorge Lopez each threw a scoreless inning of relief on Wednesday in a 4-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers in front of an announced crowd of 25,044 at Target Field.
“I’m really excited to be here, excited to be back in the big leagues and excited to play for a team that wants to win. That’s what I want,” said Leon, a veteran of 11 major-league seasons who was playing for Cleveland’s Class AAA team in Columbus, Ohio.
Despite little sleep and a crash course on his new battery mates before the game, León called flawless games for five pitchers, including starter Joe Ryan, who rebounded from his worst start of the season with five strong innings.
“It was great. Really smooth,” Ryan said.
The rookie right-hander gave up five home runs in a 10-1 loss last Friday in San Diego but was in command against the Tigers on Wednesday. He surrendered one run on three hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out nine.
Leon, he said, “asked a lot of great questions in pregame meetings. I felt confident with him. Everything we said we wanted to do, he did that great. And the bullpen was easy. Great addition to the team. And a nice double, too.”
With two out in the second inning and Nick Gordon and Gio Urshela on first and second, respectively, León jumped on an inside cutter from Tigers left-hander Tyler Alexander (2-5) and laced it into the left-field corner for a 2-0 lead.
That was all the Twins needed. Ryan (8-4) hit two batters and gave up a run-scoring single to Riley Greene in the fifth inning but left with a 2-1 lead, and Fulmer, Caleb Thielbar, Jhoan Duran and Lopez each pitched a scoreless inning to nail down a series victory.
Fulmer, a late-inning specialist for the Tigers before trading dugouts on Tuesday, gave up a single and struck out a batter in the sixth. Lopez, Baltimore’s closer before being acquired early on Tuesday, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 20th save this season — and first for his new team.
“To just even think about being here, being in that spot, to be in first (place), it’s just fun,” Lopez said. “Really fun to watch these guys daily. I love it.”
Baldelli was tickled with his new-look bullpen. His four relievers on Wednesday combined to give up a hit and a walk and struck out five.
“We saw some guys with some electric stuff. They made good pitches. They threw the ball the way they wanted to,” Baldelli said. “We saw some elite sliders from Fulmer. We saw López go out and have as dominant and clean of an inning as you want to see. It’s exciting to turn the ball over to those guys, let them do their thing out there.”
The next addition will be starting pitcher Tyler Mahle, who was scheduled to throw a bullpen session at Target Field after arriving on Wednesday. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound right-hander went 3-2 with a 2.83 earned-run average in his last nine starts for the Reds and was the Twins’ primary starting target before the deadline.
Baldelli declined to give the right-hander a starting slot but a TBA on Friday against Toronto seems a likely landing point. The Twins begin a four-game series against the Blue Jays starting Thursday at Target Field.
Byron Buxton, who returned from a two-day absence to care for his bothersome right knee to go 1 for 3 with two runs scored, said watching the new pitchers from the other side was exciting. Lopez fanned Buxton while closing out a win in Baltimore in early May, and Buxton homered off his new teammate during a Twins victory in July.
“(After) facing those guys a few times, I’m glad to have them over here,” Buxton said. “They’ve got a lot of good stuff. They compete. They were backing guys on their team, so they know how to get down and dirty when crunch time comes.”
With the victory, and Cleveland’s 7-4 win over Arizona on Wednesday, the Twins (55-49) remain one-game ahead of the second-place Guardians (54-50) in the American League Central. The Chicago White Sox are in third place, 2.5 games back at 52-51.
“The guys we got … were people we talked about,” Buxton said. “So, the fact that we got some of those guys, and those guys are here, makes our team look that much better. It’s one of those things where you come to the ballpark a little bit happy, day in and day out.”
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