CHICAGO — The Twins’ bullpen was impenetrable on Friday night. A quartet of relievers held White Sox bats quiet for the final five innings in the season opener, a bright spot for the Twins on a night full of them.
The same could not be said for the Twins’ bullpen on Saturday in Chicago. The White Sox did what the Twins have done to so many other teams in the recent past, bashing five home runs on their way to a 10-3 rout in the second game of the season.
The hits came immediately after Twins starter Randy Dobnak left the game, and kept coming. Against a White Sox team that figures to put up more of a challenge than it did a season ago, the Twins know they must execute better.
“It’s definitely not the White Sox lineup of 2019, where you can come in here and face three, four or five good hitters and then kind of cruise through the rest of the lineup,” reliever Zack Littell said. “They’re going to make you work. They’re going to put good swings on balls. They’re going to work counts. We’re just going to have to be better.”
That starts with Littell, who followed Dobnak into the game and had troubles with his location in the loss. Littell surrendered just four home runs in 37 innings pitched a season ago. But Saturday, the trouble started when Leury Garcia, the first batter he faced, took him deep. Later in the inning, Edwin Encarnacion and Eloy Jimenez hit back-to-back home runs off him, giving the White Sox a five-run lead in the fifth inning.
Littell was just one strike away from getting out of the inning before the second two home runs, but Jose Abreu was able to come back from an 0-2 count and fight off a pitch for a single to right.
“I felt good. I felt completely in control the whole time,” Littell said. “I thought I threw the ball well overall, but the location just wasn’t there, and that’s something that definitely has to be fixed.”
The White Sox rebuild is finally starting to reach the stage where the team is primed to be competitive again, adding them to Cleveland on the list of challengers the Twins must ward off this season to repeat in the American League Central. In the first two games of this season, the Twins have seen that potential.
In addition to roughing up Littell, the White Sox put up five runs off Devin Smeltzer, who pitched two innings out of the bullpen. Smeltzer gave up two home runs, including a three-run bast.
“You do like to say because you are talking about a few home runs that if you have a few pitches back … But you don’t,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You have to make those pitches. We weren’t able to do it tonight, and weren’t able to stay close enough to make it a game.”
Though Dobnak performed well, giving up one run in his four innings pitched in his spot start, Twins bats weren’t able to do much damage against Dallas Keuchel, a former Cy Young winner, who was perfect through three innings and had only given up one hit through five.
Though Keuchel seemed to tire in the sixth inning, and reliever Steve Cishek surrendered a three-run homer (two runs were charged to Keuchel) to Nelson Cruz, the Twins weren’t able to put together a sustained rally throughout the game to claw their way back in.
“He threw the ball well, and at some point you kind of look up and go, ‘The guy we faced did exactly what he wanted to do,’ and he executed,” Baldelli said of Keuchel. “I think we had a few opportunities, but ultimately probably could have swung the bats a little bit better, too.”