One Twins righthander struggled with his command Thursday. The other one was Jose Berrios.
A suddenly shaky Ervin Santana faltered in the afternoon affair as the Twins lost 5-1 to Colorado. But young Berrios shined in the night game, pitching like an ace in a 2-0 victory over the Rockies that ended a three-game losing streak and enabled the Twins to avoid being swept in the interleague series.
Berrios built off his season debut Saturday in Cleveland — when he held the Indians to one run over 7 ⅔ innings — with more excellence Thursday.
The reactions of Rockies hitters said it all. Colorado hitters flailed at Berrios’ fastball as if it were 100 miles per hour and swung over the top of his breaking ball. When Ian Desmond struck out on a breaking ball in the seventh, he shook his head as he retreated to the dugout.
“It looked a lot like [former Marlins ace] Jose Fernandez, to be honest with you,” Desmond said. “Explosive, quick heater and that sweeping curveball that he can turn into a slider, too. He looked good.
“Sometimes you have to tip your cap, and I have no shame in doing that. He pitched really well.”
In 7 ⅔ shutout innings, Berrios gave up two hits and one walk with a career-high 11 strikeouts — also a Twins season high. Fans began to cheer with anticipation when Berrios reached two strikes on hitters, and the roars increased as the game continued.
When Berrios issued a two-out walk to pinch-hitter Tony Wolters in the eighth, the cheers turned to boos as Twins manger Paul Molitor went to the mound and replaced Berrios with lefthander Taylor Rogers.
“I anticipated it was going to happen,” Molitor said. “That’s why I called for him early so I didn’t change my mind on the way out.”
Berrios threw first-pitch strikes to 10 of the first 11 batters he faced. He went to three-ball counts just three times. He was either 0-2 or 1-2 on hitters 12 times.
“It was key for me this year,” Berrios said of getting ahead in the count. “It is what is going to take for me to have a successful season, and it is going to help me get ahead of the hitters and help us get in a better position to win.”
RBI singles by Max Kepler and Robbie Grossman supplied the offense for the Twins. They ended up stranding 20 runners in the two games while going 3-for-21 with runners in scoring position.
It cost them in the first game, but Santana also put his team in a hole it could not escape.
Colorado’s Nolan Arenado jumped on Santana for a first-inning home run on a belt-high 3-2 fastball. Santana (6-2) threw first-pitch strikes to just two of the first 14 batters he faced.
“They are very aggressive and right now everything is going their way,” said Santana, who gave up five runs over seven innings. “When you are behind in the count, something is going to happen in favor of the other team.”
Santana gave up three runs in the third, two on a base-loaded double by Mark Reynolds. An RBI single by Charlie Blackmon in the fourth made it 5-0.
While Santana had a setback during the day, it was Berrios who became the stopper on Thursday night.
“It’s a long day at the park,” Molitor said. “We all know how doubleheaders work. And to be able to salvage that, credit to him.”