On a cold afternoon in Minneapolis, under a chill that saw Prince Fielder bundling up like a little third grader on his way to school, Justin Verlander blanked the Twins over five innings. It was just enough to earn himself, and the Tigers, their first win of the season, as he struck out seven and walked two. His fastball wasn't always up in the 90s where it will be in a couple of weeks, but his command was on mid-season form.
Vance Worley's afternoon wasn't great, but it could have easily been better. A matter of inches made the difference on a few different plays. Torii Hunter's weak grounder found a hole on the right side of the infield in the first inning, when Brian Dozier broke for second to cover a running Austin Jackson. A Prince Fielder double two batters later sneaked down the third base line. In the second, Joe Mauer's throw was strong enough to throw out Jhonny Peralta's stolen base attempt but Pedro Florimon's tag wasn't down quickly enough. If something goes just a shade different on any of these plays, the game changes.
After allowing three in the first two frames, Worley settled a bit and put up goose eggs over his last four innings of work. He allowed eight hits in six innings, striking out three and walking just one. All 13 of his outs in play were on the ground.
Offensively the Twins had problems picking up Verlander in the first couple of innings. Joe Mauer should have been awarded an infield hit in the first inning, but it was scored an error on Miguel Cabrera as he was unable to handle the ball. Chris Parmelee took a walk in the second. But it wasn't until the third inning when the Twins tallied their first hit off the Detroit ace, when Mauer doubled to left field. A leadoff double from Justin Morneau in the fourth was wasted.
The worst of it came in the sixth and seventh, as the Twins loaded the bases both inning and managed just two runs. A wild pitch to Wilkin Ramirez plated Trevor Plouffe, and the next inning Ryan Doumit singled hard - scoring Mauer but too fast to score Morneau. Plouffe and Chris Parmelee struck out back-to-back to end the threat, and Minnesota wouldn't threaten again.
There were some bright spots today. Mauer reached base four times on an error, double, single, and a walk. Casey Fien struck out the side in the seventh. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough to pull out the win. Brian Duensing didn't look good in relief, and Aaron Hicks was understandable over-matched by Verlander.
It's always tough to start the season with a loss, but it's a long year and the good news is that we still have more than 60 wins to look forward to! (Optimism!)