DETROIT — The Detroit Tigers may find the Minnesota Twins a bit tougher to deal with this season than last.
Detroit beat up on Minnesota the same way that Cleveland handled Detroit, with the Tigers taking 15 of 19 games from the Twins in 2016.
But Minnesota seems to possess a better rotation this year, and some of the younger Twins are off to good starts on offense.
The atmosphere around the team to date is more like the bounce that marked the Twins in 2015, when the club was a season-long surprise, than the dismal campaign they endured last year.
Minnesota brings a 5-1 record into the three-game series with Detroit (4-2), which took three of four from the short-handed Boston Red Sox.
An erratic bullpen has marked the Tigers’ first six games of the season, and the team made a move to change that Monday. The Tigers purchased the contract of hot prospect right-hander Joe Jimenez from Toledo and optioned right-hander Bruce Rondon to the Triple-A team.
Rondon was underperforming and overweight. In three games, he had a 40.50 ERA.
“You might catch lightning in a bottle,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said of the reliever swap. “I caution you on thinking that this is some type of answer. This is a young kid with a big arm who is still developing.
“He’s going to have to develop a slider, he’s going to have to get better. These are big league hitters. A lot of them have been hitting at this level for almost a decade. If you think you’re going to call a guy up who throws 97 and all of a sudden he’s going to dominate hitters, then chances are you’re going to be wrong.
“To expect this guy to be Mariano Rivera would be unfair to the kid. And we certainly wouldn’t put him in a position to try to be Mariano Rivera. He’s going to be down in the pen. We’re going to start him easy. Putting undue pressure on him is not going to help him go forward.
“This is an imperfect situation, but we don’t live in a perfect world.”
Jimenez has an upper-90s fastball and a changeup that rates as excellent, but his slider is in need of work.
Left-hander Matthew Boyd will make his sixth start against Minnesota for Detroit on Tuesday. He holds a 3-1 record and 3.94 career ERA versus the Twins. Boyd lost his first start of the season, to the Chicago White Sox.
Minnesota will go with left-hander Hector Santiago, who is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in one start.
Santiago has a decent 3.50 career ERA against Detroit but only a 2-5 record. He has started 10 games against the Tigers and relieved seven times.
Santiago pitched against Detroit as a Los Angeles Angel and for Minnesota last season, going 1-1 with a 6.62 ERA in three starts.
The Twins have been getting good outfield defense this season, but center fielder Byron Buxton is off to a slow start at the plate with just two hits.
Minnesota manager Paul Molitor says of Buxton so far:
Twins third baseman Miguel Sano, who struggled in his second year in the majors, is hitting .350/.458/.850 with two home runs, two doubles, a triple and eight RBIs in six games.
“It’s been a great start,” Molitor said. “He seems to be seeing the ball well. He expands (the strike zone) occasionally, but he’s making guys throw him strikes. He’s had some really good battles with two strikes.”
Molitor likes how they are defending so far:
Four of Sano’s seven hits came on two-strike pitches, although he has fanned seven times in 24 plate appearances.
“I’ve been working hard to hit with two strikes,” Sano said. “I’ve been working a lot with a tee. I’m trying to put the ball in play.”
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