Those cardboard faces of Twins old-timers seated behind home plate got to watch some living, breathing Twins old-timers play the game on Tuesday.
John Ryan Murphy, Minnesota’s backup catcher circa 2016, was in the Pirates’ lineup. Lefthander Nik Turley, whose Twins career lasted 10 games in 2017, threw an inning in his first trip back. Caleb Thielbar, whose last major league appearance came in Target Field in April 2015, finally returned to the majors with 2⅓ mostly effective innings for his old team.
But no old-timer, if the phrase can be applied to perhaps the American League’s most dangerous hitter in the 2020 season’s first two weeks, was more instrumental in the Twins’ fifth straight victory than 40-year-old Nelson Cruz. The Twins’ designated hitter smacked three straight hits, scored once, drove in a run, and led Minnesota to a 7-3 drubbing of the Pirates.
Jose Berrios (1-1) allowed only four hits and one run over six innings to collect his first win of the season, Eddie Rosario twice delivered RBI singles, and the Twins closed their eight-game, seven-win homestand with their biggest offensive performance in Target Field thus far.
It was Cruz who set the tone, inserting himself into three straight scoring rallies in the first four innings with three straight line drives off Pirates starter Joe Musgrove (0-3). In the first inning, his hit to center moved Max Kepler into scoring position, setting up a three-run burst when Rosario and Miguel Sano followed with hits of their own.
An inning later, Cruz batted with bases loaded, and lined another hit up the middle to score Byron Buxton. And in the fourth inning, Cruz smoked another Musgrove pitch to left, loading the bases for Rosario.
Cruz also collected three hits on Monday, marking the ninth time in his career, and third time as a Twin, that he has recorded back-to-back three-hit games.
Maybe the most notable moment of the game didn’t involve baseball; the game was delayed for eight minutes in the fifth inning when a drone appeared above center field. The Twins (9-2) were pulled off the field, and some pitchers threw baseballs at the drone, which finally disappeared behind the right field scoreboard.
The four-game series moves to Pittsburgh for games Wednesday and Thursday as the Twins start an eight-game road trip.
Hill’s shoulder sore
Eight months after surgery, Rich Hill’s pitching elbow “feels like it’s 18 again,” the lefthander said Tuesday. Unfortunately, he still has the shoulder of a 40-year-old.
The combination, Hill believes, is why he had a flare-up after his five-inning Twins debut a week ago, but it’s also why he doesn’t believe he will miss more than one start.
Hill was placed on the injured list Tuesday, but will travel with the Twins on their three-city road trip, and possibly pitch again near the end of it.
“I was feeling it in the back of my shoulder, really on the acceleration part of a fastball. Wasn’t so much with the curveball, but I felt it a little bit more with my fastball,” Hill said. “Skipping a turn here and getting ready for next week, hopefully that will clear everything up and put this behind us.”
Hill compared his progress to the third or fourth week of spring training, when veterans begin feeling sore as they ramp up to regular-season form.
The Twins didn’t immediately fill Hill’s roster spot, and might not, manager Rocco Baldelli said, since MLB rosters are scheduled to be cut from 30 players to 28 on Friday. Mindful of coronavirus precautions, the team would prefer not to have a player fly commercially back to Minnesota after two games in Pittsburgh, or fly someone in from their extra-players camp in St. Paul.
“The expanded rosters have helped us a lot, but we don’t know exactly in two days where we want to be. What we really don’t want to happen is to make a move today, and then in two days, be forced to make another move which could put whoever we send out in a bad spot,” especially since optioned players cannot be recalled for 10 days, Baldelli said. “We are leaving that spot open in case we do need something” on the road trip.
Randy Dobnak figures he has attended more than 150 games at PNC Park, about 20 minutes from his hometown of South Park, Pa. He’s not certain how many of those games were spent wishing he could someday pitch from that mound.
On Wednesday, he will, though it won’t exactly match his dreams.
“It’s going to be kind of different with no fans. Playing in my hometown and all my friends and family can’t come to the game,” said the righthander, who will make his third start of the season, and first ever in Pittsburgh. “But it’s going to be pretty awesome to be out there.”
Dobnak was 6 when his father took him to the final game at Three Rivers Stadium, and he was 7 when they attended the first game at PNC Park in the spring of 2001. He attended every Pirates home opener until he went to college, and like all his friends was a loyal Pirates fan.
“I know if we had fans in the stadium, there would be about 200 of them” cheering for him, Dobnak said. “It’s going to be surreal.”
• Third baseman Josh Donaldson, who has not played since suffering tightness in his right calf on Friday, will travel with the team and “I would expect JD to be most likely playing at some point on this trip,” Baldelli said. “Hopefully sooner than later.”
• Cruz, on helping Miguel Sano fight off a slump: “Well, we’re close. Even after a game, we talk on the phone. We locker right by. So even the days I don’t want to talk to him, he’s always there. . … Even [Sunday] night after he was out of the game, he was still hitting in the cage, [off the] machine, so that tells you how willing he is to learn and get better.”