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Strikeouts pile up in Twins’ home-opening loss to Guardians

An announced crowd of 35,595 fans huddled into Target Field on Thursday afternoon to greet the new season. They were treated to a game that looked much like last year’s early-season efforts.

The Twins’ offense, which delivered a late spark a day earlier, was unable to capitalize on its many opportunities Thursday, striking out 15 times in a 4-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians in Minnesota’s home opener.

“I do think we can get better as a team and try to get those pitches in the zone and make better decisions at the pitches we swing at. But it’s easier said than done,” said shortstop Carlos Correa, who had three hits of the Twins’ seven hits. “The season is still very young, but we don’t want it to be like last year where the first half completely was a mess. We want to be able to make those adjustments a lot earlier.”

The Twins’ issues with runners in scoring position started in the first inning when the red-hot Alex Kirilloff hit a one-out triple — his second in as many days — and was stranded on third. An inning later, with the bases loaded and two outs, Edouard Julien took a pitch at the bottom of the strike zone for called strike three.

Julien would later provide one of the Twins’ only runs of the day, hitting an opposite-field solo home run out to left that just kept carrying.

But the offense would never be able to make Cleveland (6-2) pay, finishing the day 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position and leaving nine on base. The other run the Twins (3-3) scored came in the seventh inning when Willi Castro raced home on a wild pitch.

“The punchouts do hurt you with runners in scoring position. At least giving yourself a shot and putting it in play is probably the better scenario for us,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We just have to do a better job, have better at-bats, flat out. We had the chances. We had plenty of chances to do it today.”

The offensive effort meant the Twins were unable to catch up once they fell behind.

Ace Pablo López began his day with three perfect innings before the Guardians collected four singles — all relatively softly hit — in the fourth inning. Add in a sacrifice fly and the three-run inning was enough to put the Twins in a hole for good.

“When you’re going against an offense like the Cleveland Guardians, you definitely are aware that there’s not going to be a lot of swing-and-miss stuff going on, so it could go like the first three innings went — early contact, the balls were going right at people, quick outs — or it could go like the fourth inning when they’re still staying with their approach, putting the ball in play, trying to make stuff happen,” López said. “One inning, one hit after the other, they compounded.”

The Guardians tacked on one more run in the sixth inning, scoring on a rare Correa error but then running into an out at the plate to end the inning. And while the Twins were within striking distance all day with plenty of opportunities, they went down quietly late.

“We were close a couple times,” Kirilloff said. “Just like to do a little more, a little bit better with runners in scoring position. I think we’re close as an offense. Just got to keep plugging away.”

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