For the first time this season, the Twins played down to their 2016 level.
A big blunder on defense. Pitching to impact. Little from the offense. Their 11-4 loss to the Indians on Tuesday night at Target Field was the kind of game from which the Twins want to distance themselves. But there it was, as Cleveland slugged two homers and Josh Tomlin went six innings to get the win.
“It took us 14 games to have a clunker,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said, “and that was pretty much from the get-go.”
Once 5-1, the Twins dropped to 7-7 while Cleveland, which began the day in last place in the AL Central, now has the same record.
Righthander Phil Hughes, whose 2-0 start was his best since 2010, fell behind early and was knocked out in the fourth inning.
Hughes couldn’t catch a break in the first, when he was victimized by what had been an improved Twins defense.
Cleveland led 1-0 on Edwin Encarnacion’s RBI groundout. Hughes was in a battle with Jose Ramirez when his eighth pitch finally elicited a routine fly ball to right field that should have been the final out of the inning.
Max Kepler was in place to make the play but took his eye off the ball as he reached for it. Fans gasped then groaned as the ball ticked off his glove for an error. Instead of the inning being over, Cleveland led 2-0.
“I took my eye off it,” Kepler said. “I missed it. Stuff happens.”
Hughes ended up throwing 10 more pitches that inning. One of them was nearly in the dirt but was smacked to right by Lonnie Chisenhall for an RBI single to make it 3-0.
“Obviously, I have to regroup and limit the damage there,” Hughes said. “I wasn’t able to do that.”
But there was a bigger problem.
“I couldn’t get my changeup going,” Hughes said. “My pace just felt a little off.”
The Twins cut it two 3-2 in the bottom of the first behind Kepler’s sacrifice fly and Robbie Grossman’s RBI double. Hughes, however, just couldn’t find the feel for his changeup.
He tried it a couple of times in the first and didn’t like it. So he tried to pitch with his fastball, cut fastball and curveball but gave up six runs, four earned, on eight hits with three strikeouts over 3 ⅓ innings. Cleveland led 6-2 at the time, thanks to a two-run homer by Ramirez in the third, and then got three consecutive hits in the fourth to score another run and force Hughes from the game.
Cleveland kept applying pressure. When Encarnacion was hit by a pitch and Ramirez followed with a single to start the fifth, manager Terry Francona had Chisenhall bunt them into scoring positions. And Yandy Diaz came through with a sacrifice fly to make it 7-3. Francisco Lindor’s two-run triple to center off Justin Haley put Cleveland ahead 9-3.
Encarnacion ended the scoring with a two-run homer off Michael Tonkin in the ninth, his eighth at Target Field. The Twins pitching staff began the day with the lowest ERA in baseball at 2.50. It rose to 2.98 following the shellacking.
So Molitor will get to see how his team rebounds following an ugly loss.
“We have some people that I think know how to handle that fairly well,’’ Molitor said. “We’ve been through it enough, so we should have some experience in that regard. So we still have some chances here.”