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Okert navigates an interesting ninth inning for Twins

The Twins entered this season with high expectations for their bullpen, but they lost three relievers they expected to be major contributors — Jhoan Duran, Caleb Thielbar and Justin Topa — to injuries during spring training.

It hasn't been an issue to this point.

The Twins' bullpen holds the lowest ERA in the majors (1.35) with the highest strikeout rate (52 in 40 innings). Kody Funderburk, Jorge Alcala, Brock Stewart, Griffin Jax and Steven Okert combined to pitch 4⅓ scoreless innings during the Twins' 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday.

"Oh man, everyone has been throwing great," said Okert, who recorded his first career save after he pitched a scoreless ninth inning. "It's been awesome to watch. I feel like when guys are doing that, it's easy for the next guy to go in and do that. Everyone is pumping strikes and working ahead of hitters, putting together good innings. I feel like everyone is just feeding off each other."

The Twins don't have many relievers assigned to specific roles. Jax and Stewart are the club's top high-leverage relievers, deployed with leads in the late innings, and Okert is their top lefty reliever, but they're asking the rest of the group to be comfortable in a variety of spots.

"They've attacked well in the zone, and our bullpen has gotten outs," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "No two ways about it. I've been very pleased with the way that they've handled the situations, as much as the pitches that they've made."

Okert earns first save

Okert spent time as a setup man for the Miami Marlins, particularly in 2022, but Wednesday was the first time he pitched in a save situation since his rookie season in 2016.

"Not trying to do too much," Okert said. "Not trying to go out there and be a guy that's [throwing] 96-97 mph. That's not me. Just staying true to my slider and not trying to overdo it with that."

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The ninth inning Wednesday wasn't without a little drama. After Will Smith hit a one-out single, Austin Barnes nearly grounded into a game-ending double play, but the out call was overturned through a replay review.

"I didn't really see the play," Okert said. "I asked [catcher Christian] Vázquez, 'Is he out?' He goes, 'I think he's out.' I was like, OK, cool, we did it. Then you look up on the video board and see he's clearly safe. Obviously, I have my little cheat sheet in my pocket. Look at that, check back in and try to keep going."

The overturned call brought Mookie Betts to the plate, representing the go-ahead run, but Okert induced a popup to seal his save.

"I was really hoping it was over before that," said a smiling Okert, "but obviously it worked out."

Etc.

* Topa (left patellar tendinitis) plans to throw a bullpen session Saturday. It will be his first time throwing off a mound since his knee injury at the end of spring training.

* The Twins snapped a 0-for-33 hitless streak with runners in scoring position Wednesday. It was tied for the third-longest hitless streak with a runner on second or third base in franchise history, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

* Baldelli earned his 379th managerial win, passing Gene Mauch for fourth place on the Twins' career list.