Tuesday, the Cards performed rotation replacement surgery, taking not merely a fresh forearm tendon from Daniel Ponce de Leon but like all his pitching tendons to replace Mikolas. (Note to self: Tell Mo to hire Matt Holliday as forearm consultant.)
Coming into tonight, Ponce had thrown all of 3 pitches, after he was tasked in getting that final, high-leverage out with an 8-run lead vs. the Pirates last Saturday. And when it comes to repertoires, unlike a box of chocolates and like a certain former Cardinal, you know what you gonna get:
The Twins countered with 40-year-old Rich Hill, who went under the knife himself last off-season, getting nanobots injected into his left (throwing) elbow, with the goal of actually strengthening his forearm.
Hill relies mostly on a 4-seamer (51.9%), curve (41.4%), and guile. And nanobots. The Twins are Hill’s 9th team in his 15-year career. Maybe it’s him. Hill had the second-most horizontal movement on his curve in 2019, 18.5 inches, so guess that’s why he keeps getting work.
Facing a lefty on the “hill,” (LOL) Shildt tweaked the lineup, replacing Matt Carpenter at DH with righty Rangel Ravelo batting 8th. And after reading A.E. Shafer’s write-up today breaking down Tyler O’Neill’s Hot Start, the Redbird skipper moved the Canadian strongman up to 5th in the order.
Ponce had his hands full against the Twins deep lineup. Fangraphs pre-game odds gave the Twins the edge: 59.6% to 40.4%. Oof.
The Twins wore their powder blues. They looked no better than the Cards’ version.
The Bird’s-Eye View
The Cards were never out of this game, but it felt like it after they got down early.
Ponce showed flashes of effectiveness, but ironically that only happened when he dropped the fastball-only approach and mixed in curves and cutters. He certainly started the first doing what he does, throwing four-seamers, four-seamers, and four-seamers. But poor command with it produced an immediately bloated pitch count and a 1-run deficit after the first frame. After that, he started mixing in more breaking pitches, and did slightly better but still went to several deep counts.
The 4th inning was an microcosm of how things went tonight for the young lanky hurler. He struck out 2, but also gave up a homer, walked a man, and hit a batter. Overall, on a positive note, he did have 8 Ks (and 3 walks) in his 3.2 innings of work. But obviously, striking that many dudes out also takes lots of pitches. So after just 3.2 innings, his night was done after 85 (gulp) pitches and a 2-0 deficit.
He left Tyler Webb a bases loaded situation, and the lefty gave up a hit to allow anther earned run charged to Ponce.
Meanwhile, as lengthy as several of the Twins’ innings were, the Cards’ frames went just as quickly. They got nothing going at all against Hill through 5 innings, producing just 2 harmless singles and one walk, with nothing sequenced.
The Twins bullpen was lights out after that, as just one Cardinals hitter reached base, an 8th-inning single. You can probably deduce how the Cards were shut out.
The bright spot for the Cards was the bullpen. After Webb gave up a hit in the third to plate an inherited runner, the trio of Whitely, Miller, and Helsley gave up just 2 hits (both off Miller), no walks, and no runs through the end of the game.
The Flight Path
Top of 1st - The no-hitter was squashed, but that’s it.
Kolten Wong wasted no time, sizzling pitch 1 at 100.3 mph, but it was right at the shortstop for the like quickest out ever. Tommy followed by striking out swinging on a high and away fastball. Paul Goldschmidt then worked the count full and smacked a curve that hung up, singling to left. Fellow Paul, the DeJong variety, couldn’t advance the inning, flying out to medium right.
Bottom of 1st (In Play Run(s)) - It took Ponce 31 pitches to get through the inning (just 18 strikes), but the Twinkies got just one run. Twins Win Expectancy jumped to 62.6%.
Ponce couldn’t get lead-off hitter Luis Arraez to fish at his heaters just atop the zone, walking him on 4 pitches. He refocused with better command, getting Josh Donaldson swinging through a fastball (duh) slightly up and in. Jorge Polanco got to a full count, fouled off three, then flew out to right.
On a full count and with Arraez running, Cruz zipped a gapper into right-center, doubling and easily plating the runner to make it 1-0.
Versus next hitter Eddie Rosario, Ponce actually mixed in a cutter and three curves, the last curve striking him out on a full count.
Top of 2nd - A loud out and another harmless single.
Tyler O’Neill gave one a ride to deep right-center, but it was caught just shy of the wall. Yadi next got a one-out single, lining an elevated fastball to left. Dexter Fowler then struck out swinging on Hill’s other main pitch, the slow curve at 73.5 mph. Rangel was a little too excited about DHing, and he grounded into a force-out on the first pitch, ending the inning.
Bottom of 2nd - Ponce mixed in several curves and cutters this inning with better results but still lots of pitches thrown.
Migeul Sano started things off by obligingly skying a high fly-out to Tyler in left. Jake “Man” Cave endeared himself even more to Cards’ fans by striking out swinging on a nicely placed heater up and away. Ponce couldn’t get the 1-2-3 inning, though, walking 8th-place hitter Marwin Gonzles on 7 pitches. He bounced back, striking out Alex Avila on a nice down-and-in cutter.
Top of 3rd - The 9, 1, 2 hitters couldn’t time Hill up and went quietly, making him throw just 10 pitches.
Harrison Bader, glad to see a lefty, didn’t leverage the match-up, got jammed and rolled one to third, just not slowly enough to allow him to reach safely. Kolten followed by lifting a fly-out the second baseman caught behind first near the line. Lastly, Edman flew out to medium center.
Bottom of 3rd - The very good version of Ponce de Leon appeared against the top of the order, setting them down like a boss.
Lead-off man Arraez started things off for the second time, and battled, but Ponce got the best of him, striking him out swinging on the 8th pitch. Next, though, he got the dangerous Donaldson on 3 pitches, the last one an 80 mph curve Josh watched drop nicely into the zone for a backward K. Daniel went back to the heater on Jorge Polanco, who hacked at it, grounding out to Wong.
Top of 4th - A lead-off walk did not produce further action.
Goldschmidt didn’t have to take the bat off his shoulder, walking on 4 straight. Hill got DeJong a little out front on a curve, inducing a fliner to center for out 1. O’Neill then tomahawked a high fastball (that Hill took a little off of) into the dirt to third. The Twins got the force at second, but it was hit weakly enough, that Tyler’s superior speed carried him safely to first.
Now with two outs, it was up to Yadi to extend the inning. On a 1-2 count, he got horribly fooled on an eephus-like low curve (66 mph), flinging his bat at it, producing a hollow “clunk” sound with the weak contact. Unfortunately, it went fair, making for an easy grounder to third.
Bottom of 4th (In Play Run(s)) - Ponce had a Dr. Jekyll/Mr Hyde inning, giving up another run, and his night was done. The Twins tacked on another off Webb, lifting their Win Expectancy to 76.0%.
Ponce caught a break against cleanup hitter and leader-offer of the inning Cruz, getting a called third strike on a cutter that was outside the zone for out 1, and Ponce’s 7th strikeout. Next batter Rosario made him pay, though, for offering too good a pitch on an 0-2 count. He golfed a down-and-in fastball to deep right for homer, making it 2-0 Twins. Daniel re-grouped to strikeout Sano swinging on his best friend the heater.
Ping-ponging back to a bad result, Ponce hit Jake Cave on the foot with a wild cutter. Then facing Gonzalez, his expected last batter of the night, Ponce broke off a perfect beauty of a hook on a 3-2 count, but the ump didn’t give it to him. Gonzalez walked to first to load the bases, Ponce walked to the dugout to load up on Gatorade.
The Twins got lucky next. With lefty Webb in now to face lefty Avila, a jam-shot flare to left scored another run to make it 3-0. Finally, the lengthy inning ended, with Webb inducing Arraez to fly out to medium left.
Top of 5th - The loudest sound was Hill’s grunting.
Dexter Fowler led off by tapping a curve back to the thrower of it, Hill. Ravelo followed that up by skying a fly-out to left that Rosario temporarily lost but regrouped to glove easily. Bader ended the inning by grounding out to the second baseman, who was shifted, fielding it on the shortstop side of second four out 3.
Bottom of 5th - Kodi Whitely entered to face the meat of the Twins’ order. He didn’t flinch.
Welcome to the game, Kodi. Meet Josh Donaldson. He got the burly righty off-balance on a full-count change-up, getting a fly-out to left. He used the change-up well again against Polanco, getting a swinging strikeout. A first-pitch slider to Cruz produced an easy-hop grounder to Edman to finish the inning.
Top of 6th - The opposite of Hill, burly righty Tyler Duffy, entered in relief, throwing mid-90s heat and mid-80s sliders. He set the Cards down in order in a very non-democratic manner. The Twins’ Win Expectancy surged to 91.8%.
Kolten Wong couldn’t get something going, striking out swinging on a back-foot slider. Edman also K’d, but got the backward variety, as he watched a BB of a fastball just off the outer edge that the youngster did not like. Goldschmidt thought what the heck, let’s make it a threesome, striking out as well, swinging on a down-and-in fastball.
Bottom of 6th - Kodi and Andrew Miller paired to set the Twins down in order for the second straight inning.
Kodi remained in and set down Rosario on the second pitch via a tapped grounder back to himself for out 1. Big Man Sano hacked and hacked at Kodi’s offerings and got a full count, but the young righty fooled him in the end, striking him out swinging on a tight slider.
That was the end of his night, as Shildt then brought in Andrew Miller, who got lefty hitter Cave to fly out to right-center.
Top of 7th - Former closer and still current beard aficionado, the slight righty Sergio Romo came in to relieve. The Cards didn’t solve his 75 mph slider. The Twins got defensive: Aaron Whitefield came in to play CF; Jake Cave moved to RF from CF; Marwin Gonzalez replaced Miguel Sano at 1B.
DeJong was looking for Sergio’s calling card slider on a 3-2 count. Instead, he watched an 85 mph “fastball” for strike 3 down and away. Next, Tyler hit a sinking liner to center (off a slider) for out 2, sounding like it was off the end of his bat. Yadi was the final victim of the down-in-order inning, flying out to left-center on...yep, another slider.
Bottom of 7th - Miller remained in, as 3 lefties were up, but he didn’t make it through. If he and Kolten’s gloves were a little bigger, it might’ve been a different inning.
Miller whiffed on a come-backer off the bat of Gonzalez that went right under his glove, and rolled toward second. Kolten backhanded it, but his jump-throw was too late.
Avila next flew out to medium center for the first out. Arraez then hit a grounder that Kolten dove to his right for, but it skipped under his mitt and into the outfield for a clean single. Gonzalez motored to third, making it first and third, one out.
With righty Donaldson coming up, Shildt took the opportunity to bring in righty Ryan Helsley. The fireballer got Josh to bang a slider into the ground to third, and the runner broke for home. Tommy threw to Yadi, who ran down and tagged the runner for the out. Helsley then got out of the mess, getting a fly-out to left off the bat of
Top of 8th - Righty Tyler Clipper now came in to bridge the game. Sub-90s fastballs and change-ups were enough.
Dexter poked a single to left-center to give the Cards just their third hit of the night, their first since a Yadi single in the 2nd inning and first base runner since Goldy’s 4th-inning walk. Carpenter came in to hit for Rangel. After getting ahead 3-0, the count went full, striking out on a diving change-up Carp wasn’t close to.
Shildt next sent up Matt Wieters for his first AB in 2020, hitting for Bader. On an 0-2 count, Dex broke for second. Matt got jammed badly on an up-and-in “splitter” that didn’t split (the backdoor slider version of a splitter), popping up to the second baseman, who tossed to first for the inning-ending double play.
Bottom of 8th - Helsley remained in and remained impressive-looking.
Cruz went down swinging on a nasty 0-2 slider for out 1; next batter Rosario likewise struck out swinging except on a curve; and Whitefield grounded out to Kolten on the first pitch he saw.
Top of 9th - Lefty Tayler Rogers came in to close things off. It was quick.
Kolten hit a squibber to third, becoming an easy first out. Edman swung over a slider on pitch three to strike out. Goldschmidt was late on his third pitch, a 94 mph fastball on the outer half, for a game-ending strikeout.
Bottom of 9th
The Bottom Line
- I hate the “Dating Back to Last Year” thing, and Danny Mac jinxed Tommy Edman pre-game, noting he had reached safely in 22-straight games (DBTLY). He was 0-4 tonight.
- Oh, and Tommy pulled off the hat trick, striking out 3 times.
- Tonight was Rangel’s major league debut DHing, but it was uneventful, with him going 0-2.
- Weird Stat ‘o the Day: Hill became the oldest pitcher in Twins history to start within the first 5 games of a season.
- Ponce’s 53 pitches after 2 innings made for a slogging start to the game, taking nearly 50 minutes to get through those 2 frames.
- Ponce threw his first non-four-seamer on pitch 17, what I’m calling a cutter. (Gameday labeled it a four-seamer, but it was at 87 mph, not his usual 93 mph heater.) Again, when he started mixing, he got better results, illustrated by his 8 Ks:
- Edman’s brother works for the Twins and was able to find his bro’s homer from Tuesday night. Awww.
- 12 Cards were set down in a row between the 5th and 7th innings.
- The Cards did not have a RISP. Like, at all. The Cards did not have an extra base hit. Nope.
- The Twins were only 1-5 with RISP. And they K’d 12 times. And had just 3 walks. And only 5 hits. But 2 of the 5 hits were XBHs (homer and double).
- Thankfully, this was a 2-game series. The Cards are off tomorrow then back at it Friday at 1:10 CT to open a 3-game series with the Brewers. Jack will be back on the mound to stop this 3-game skid.