Kepler's offense, Correa's stellar stop lead Twins to 3-2 win over Nationals

WASHINGTON – There is a difference in the way Carlos Correa looks in the batter's box after he dealt with plantar fasciitis in his left heel for most of last season.

He showed it when he pummeled a first-pitch curveball for a solo home run in the sixth inning Wednesday to give the Twins a two-run lead. Then he showed how much it helps to have a healthy foot once again when he saved the lead with his defense an inning later.

Correa, with the tying run on third base in the bottom of the seventh inning, took two steps and dove for a hard-hit ball up the middle from Washington Nationals center fielder Jacob Young. Correa quickly stood up and fired a throw to first base to toss out one of the fastest runners in the sport for a game-saving out.

"I didn't want the game to get tied at all," Correa said after the Twins secured a 3-2 victory at Nationals Park, taking the final two games in the three-game series. "It was too hot to play extra innings."

With a fresh bullpen and a looming off-day, the Twins saw Wednesday's finale as a must-win game. Simeon Woods Richardson was pulled early, after completing 4⅔ scoreless innings in 77 pitches.

"A lot of our bullpen guys were fully rested and they're waiting to pitch with everything they've got," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "We knew it wasn't a day we had to push Sim a long way in the game."

Said lefty reliever Steven Okert: "It was all hands on deck."

It wasn't the crispest outing for Woods Richardson, whose fastball velocity was down about 1 mph on an 88-degree afternoon. He threw a first-pitch strike to nine of his 18 batters, and two of his last three outs were recorded at the warning track. He was still effective, pitching around leadoff singles in the second and third innings, and a leadoff walk in the fourth inning.

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Facing a Nationals lineup that featured five lefties and one switch hitter, the Twins leaned on their three lefthanded relievers. Okert retired all four batters he faced. Caleb Thielbar pitched a scoreless inning. Kody Funderburk allowed two hits to open the seventh inning before Griffin Jax replaced him.

Jax induced two ground balls, allowing one run to score on a groundout to first base, then watched Correa save the lead with his diving play. Jax pumped his fist as he screamed on the mound. Correa spun toward the outfield after his throw and let out a yell.

"We're probably still playing or could be down if [Correa] didn't play the way he did," Baldelli said. "That's big-time stuff."

BOXSCORE: Twins 3, Washington 2

The Twins managed two runs in 6⅓ innings against Nationals starter Jake Irvin, a Bloomington Jefferson grad and a onetime Twins draft pick. Max Kepler homered on a first-pitch fastball in the second inning and Correa on a first-pitch curveball in the sixth.

"His sinker was carving me up, so I said let's look for the curveball," Correa said. "He threw it, and I banged it."

Kepler hit a leadoff double in the top of the ninth inning and scored when Ryan Jeffers followed with a single. It loomed larger when Twins closer Jhoan Duran surrendered a solo homer on a splitter to Joey Meneses in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Duran, who chatted about his pitches with Pablo López in the clubhouse afterward, stranded the tying run at second base.