Shuffield’s home run sends Twins to 5-3 spring training victory over Pirates

FORT MYERS, FLA. – Willi Castro had a pair of hits in his spring debut, Alex Kirilloff and Austin Martin drove in runs, and Louie Varland struck out two Pirates in two scoreless innings.

But the star of the Twins' 5-3 victory in their Grapefruit League opener on Saturday was Class AA outfielder Dalton Shuffield. In his return to Hammond Stadium, where he played with the Class A Mighty Mussels last year in April and May, Shuffield slugged an opposite-field, three-run home run into the right-field seats to break a 2-2 sixth-inning tie.

Minutes later, Shuffield, a 10th-round pick in the 2022 draft from Texas State, helped protect the lead by scooping up Matt Fraizer's RBI single a half-inning later and throwing to Twins catcher Jair Camargo, easily beating Pirates runner Jack Brannigan for the rally-ending out.

The Twins starting lineup included nine players who figure to play in Target Field this season, and they combined for four hits against Pittsburgh starter Bailey Falter, including a two-run second-inning burst. Edouard Julien started the rally with a one-out infield hit, and Castro followed with a sharp single to left.

A wild pitch by Falter moved them up a base, and Kirilloff drove in a run with a ground out behind the first-base bag, before Martin singled Castro home.

You can't do that

Twins reliever Jeff Brigham was facing Jake Lamb, his old teammate at the University of Washington, in the fifth inning, so the moment was memorable enough for them. It was made more so when Lamb stepped out of the box after a pitch and yelled at Brigham, "What are you doing?"

Actually, Brigham wasn't sure. So when his scoreless inning ended, he sought out home plate umpire Marvin Hudson and asked, more or less: Am I cheating?

Turns out, he was.

"Basically, I've got a new split [-fingered] pitch, and I've been trying to find ways to hide it from people. So I thought it was a good idea to start with my hand in the glove," the veteran righthander said. "[Hudson] said he had had a discussion about it three days ago, and that we're not allowed to do that with guys on base," apparently because it's perceived as an attempt to deceive baserunners.

Which came as news to Brigham.

"I've always started with my hand behind my back as I get the sign, but I'm afraid you can tell" when he wedges the ball between his middle and index fingers to throw the split-finger, explained Brigham, who was joined by Rocco Baldelli and pitching coach Pete Maki as the friendly conversation with Hudson went on. "I've been practicing it so much because I'm trying to hide it, but they said I can't do it. It's the first game of spring, so I've got time to figure something out."


• Varland hit 98 mph with his fastball in the first inning, already far beyond his average of 95.3 mph last season and approaching his top velocity just 10 days after arriving in camp.

Bailey Ober gets his first start of the spring Sunday against the Red Sox at JetBlue Park, while Lucas Giolito starts for Boston. The last time the Twins faced Giolito, they scored nine runs over three innings in a 20-6 victory at Cleveland on Sept. 4.