MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins had gone six games without a starter recording an out in the sixth inning and had seen plenty of losses pile up at home to the Cleveland Indians when 6-foot-10 right-hander Aaron Slegers took the mound for the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader.
Slegers then dazzled for six innings and changed the viewpoint for Minnesota heading into this weekend’s three-game interleague series with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Twins start the series against Arizona with their top two starters in line as they try to break through in the American League wild card. Minnesota begins Friday one game behind the Los Angeles Angels for the second wild card in the AL.
“It was much-needed for Aaron to come up here, given the circumstances,” Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. “I’m not sure he knows all that’s transpired between us and that particular team (Cleveland) on this field here, but he did a nice job of trusting himself. He threw a lot of strikes. To go as long as he did and pitch as effectively as he did, it was just, I think, a big boost for everybody.
“He won a lot of respect for a lot of people in that clubhouse tonight.”
Arizona is also challenging for the playoffs, owning one wild-card spot in the National League after a 4-0 win in Houston on Thursday.
Two prime pitching matchups will be featured in the next couple of games. Minnesota All-Star right-hander Ervin Santana (12-7, 3.28 ERA) will start Friday against Arizona’s Zack Godley (5-5, 2.95), and Minnesota’s Jose Berrios will face Arizona’s Zack Greinke on Saturday.
Bartolo Colon will start the third game for the Twins, but Arizona is unsure of its Sunday starter.
“We have some candidates that we’re walking through,” manager Torey Lovullo told MLB.com. “We still haven’t made that final decision. Sunday is TBA. We want to get to it as soon as possible so we can let everyone prepare for what they’re going to do.”
Santana is coming off a five-inning no-decision against Detroit in his last outing as he gave up four runs (two earned) on Sunday. Santana is 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA in four career starts against the Diamondbacks.
With their ace on the mound and finally getting a win against the Indians at home, Minnesota can turn the page to Arizona.
“It’s the old 1-9 is better than 0-10 kind of deal, so we’ll take it,” Molitor said of playing Cleveland. “Hopefully these guys get a good rest, and you don’t have long before you have to get back at a new team.”
The Twins lost the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader 9-3 but came back to win 4-2 in the nightcap behind Slegers’ strong performance and Max Kepler’s go-ahead homer in the seventh inning.
“Most definitely,” outfielder Byron Buxton said of the nightcap being a big win. “After that first game, we just told ourselves not to press and not worry about anything. Just come back out there and play the game the right way and play it hard and whatever happens, happens.”
Arizona also felt beating Houston on Thursday was important after back-to-back losses.
“You don’t want to call it a must-win, but this is a good team — the type of team that we would face if we get into the playoffs — and they got us the last two nights,” Daniel Descalso told MLB.com after hitting an inside-the-park homer in the game.
Godley has established himself as an important figure in the Diamondbacks’ push for the playoffs. The right-hander is 2-1 with a 1.78 ERA over his last four starts. Godley hasn’t faced Minnesota in his 53-game career.
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