Louie Varland chased early as Twins drop series to Tigers

The last time he pitched, Louie Varland’s issue was two-strike execution. This time out, the issue was not getting to two strikes in the first place.

A tough start to the 2024 season for the St. Paulite continued on Sunday when Varland gave up four runs and exited early in the Twins’ 6-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the series finale at Target Field.

Varland was lucky to get through the first inning having given up just two runs after he walked three batters and allowed a single. Just 18 of the 39 pitches he threw that inning were strikes, and before he escaped from the inning, the Twins (7-13) had a reliever warming up.

“It was a location thing,” Varland said. “I didn’t have much feel for many pitches that first inning. Tried to adjust, adjusted, threw more strike. But then my stuff wasn’t as sharp or as good.”

He made it through the second inning before a Buddy Kennedy two-run homer in the third inning spelled the end of his day, the team already in a hole from which it would never recover.

Four starts into the season, Varland now sports a 9.18 earned-run average, having given up 17 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings.

It begs the question: Will the Twins let Varland work things out at the major league level?

“I think we have a whole lot of things we have to talk about,” manager Rocco Baldelli said when asked about it. “We have to have really almost anything on the table right now to find a way to improve.”

Varland was projected to start this season in Triple-A but earned an opportunity after Anthony DeSclafani suffered a season-ending injury in spring training. After spending parts of the past two seasons in the majors — including a stint as a highly-effective reliever late last season — this was finally his chance to prove himself.

It hasn’t gone to plan.

“It’s everything I asked for, I trained for this offseason and going into camp,” Varland said. “Had the opportunity right in front of me, and I mean it’s just not ideal how it’s been going.”

The short start forced the Twins to heavily tax their bullpen, turning to Cole Sands for 1 1/3 innings, Matt Bowman and Jay Jackson for two innings apiece, and Caleb Thielbar for the ninth.

The Twins, though they began the game by loading the bases in the bottom of the first inning, were unable to break through against starter Casey Mize, who threw six scoreless innings for the Tigers (12-10).

Austin Martin’s first career home run in the ninth inning helped the Twins avoid being shut out, but there was no other offense to speak of in a defeat that was their sixth loss in their past seven days.

In 17 of 20 games this season, the Twins have scored four runs or fewer. After Sunday’s game, multiple players were in the batting cages, getting extra work in.

“That kind of tells you the way things are going at the moment,” Baldelli said. “They’re not going the way we want.”

There’s at least one piece of good news for the slumping Twins: The Chicago White Sox, who own Major League Baseball’s worst record (3-18), come to town next for four games.

“We can’t play like this, pitch and play like this, and think things are just going to be fine,” Baldelli said. “And our guys know it’s just going to be fine. … What’s going on right now is frustrating for everyone involved. No one is OK with it, and we know we have work to do.”

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