SEATTLE – This is Bailey Ober's team now.
OK, not in a literal sense, but if the Twins are going to accomplish anything of value during this lost 16-games-back season, it's probably going to have to be development of young players. And nowhere do they need that development more than their starting rotation.
Enter Ober, a 25-year-old rookie who has looked increasingly confident and effective in each of his four encouraging, if brief, starts. On Wednesday, Ober faced 12 Mariner hitters and easily retired 11 of them, six by strikeout, propelling the Twins to their first win after three straight losses, 7-2 at T-Mobile Park.
"If we can keep him going and throwing the ball like he's throwing now throughout this season, then it's been a great year for him," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Because he's truly going out there and competing at this level and proving that he can do it."
Ober threw only 63 pitches, but like Josh Donaldson and Andrelton Simmons, was lifted from the game a little early. Fortunately for the Twins, unlike the other two, Ober's departure wasn't due to injury.
Yeah, it was another one of those who's-hurt-now nights.
Jorge Polanco collected three hits and became the first Twin in more than two years to steal third base (or even attempt it), Nelson Cruz retook the Twins' home run lead with his 14th of the season, and Ryan Jeffers hit his second home run in three games. But whatever good feelings the Twins generated with their most lopsided victory in nearly four weeks were tempered by the sight of the left side of their infield walking off due to injury.
Donaldson, who singled and scored in the first inning on a Jeffers single, left the game in the third inning after experiencing tightness in his right calf, the same one that caused him to miss more than a month last season. The decision to remove Donaldson, who had played in 54 of the Twins' previous 57 games, was precautionary, Baldelli said.
"There's not really a high level of concern right now," Baldelli said.
Two innings later, Simmons departed, too, when his left ankle became irritated, something that's happened a couple of times already this year. "He was limping a bit. We weren't going to let him go out there limping around the field," Baldelli said. "It's something that definitely relieves itself normally in a day or two."
Amid all the shuffling, Ober remained firmly in control of a Seattle offense that scored 14 runs in winning the first two games of this series. The 6-foot-9 righthander, the Twins' 12th-round pick in 2017 out of the College of Charleston, allowed nothing but soft contact, when he allowed contact at all. The hardest-hit ball he allowed was a groundout by Ty France that registered only 95.5 mph.
"I really commanded my fastball pretty well," Ober said of a pitch that recorded four swing-and-miss third strikes. "Attacked these guys with fastballs in and out of the zone, and I feel like that was my biggest pitch."
That fastball regularly hit 92 mph, and his changeup continually froze Mariners hitters. Ober retired the first nine hitters in order, then allowed a single to J.P. Crawford to lead off the fourth inning, a batter who was erased when he was thrown out trying to steal second.
But that was it. Baldelli, mindful that Ober didn't pitch in a game last year due to the minor-league cancellation, said Ober would be limited to between 60 and 75 pitches all season, and he proved it here. "I kind of asked him, like, 'Hey, what's my pitch count? Can I go back out one more [inning]?' " Ober said. "He just said, 'It's a long season. But you did a really good job, and just take it easy for now.' "
The Twins had little trouble with Mariners lefthander Justus Sheffield, putting their leadoff hitter on base four times in his five innings, and scoring in three of them to put the game out of reach early. Cruz hit his 30th home run since his 40th birthday, one short of Dave Winfield's franchise record, off a Sheffield sinker in the fifth inning, and Jeffers followed with a homer of his own.
Perhaps the most notable offensive event, though, was provided by Willians Astudillo, who took over for Donaldson. Astudillo had not drawn a walk in his previous 153 plate appearances, dating back to Sept. 24, 2019, but he took four straight balls from Sheffield in the third inning — then drew another in the fifth, the first two-walk game of his career.
"Wow. You don't really see a dugout explode like that very often," Baldelli joked of Astudillo's first walk of 2021. "And then another one? I don't know how thing like this happen. But he was 3-and-0. He got the take sign. But I'm going to give him full credit. He tried pretty hard to avoid it, but he got one."