Woods Richardson twirls gem as Twins outpitch Mariners in 3-1 victory

The Twins frequently use pinch hitters and empty their bench, but they opted to keep Christian Vázquez in the batter's box with the bases loaded and the score tied in the seventh inning Monday.

There were four righthanded hitters on the Twins bench, including Ryan Jeffers and Jose Miranda, when the Seattle Mariners intentionally walked switch hitter Carlos Santana to load the bases. Vázquez struck out on three fastballs in an earlier at-bat against Luis Castillo, so he expected another one when he fell into a two-strike count.

Vázquez delivered a go-ahead sacrifice fly to center field, and Manuel Margot added an RBI single as the Twins squeaked past Seattle for a 3-1 victory at Target Field in a pitchers' duel where the two teams combined for eight hits.

What prompted Twins manager Rocco Baldelli to stick with Vázquez?

"He had seen him," he said. "We think about every pinch hitting scenario for the most part. If you haven't seen [Castillo], it's hard."

The seventh-inning rally savored a special start from Simeon Woods Richardson, who didn't earn the win but left with a baseball in a case after striking out a career-high eight batters in six shutout innings.

Woods Richardson had a couple of strong starts this season, but he never looked like he did Monday. He struck out his first four batters and seven of his first 10. The 23-year-old credited Vázquez's game calling, and the veteran catcher thought Woods Richardson's confidence grew after cementing a spot in the rotation.

"Knowing he's a part of the team, he's going to prepare very [hard] to do good," Vázquez said. "I think that helped him a lot."

Woods Richardson's best swing-and-miss pitch this season has been his slider. He didn't begin throwing it until the third inning, recording his first five strikeouts with fastballs. He worked on lowering his arm slot in the offseason to gain a little more velocity, and this is how it paid off. His eight strikeouts were his highest total in a start since he struck out eight Iowa Cubs in a Class AAA game on Aug. 27, 2022.

"Christian does such a great job behind the plate being able to adapt and see stuff before I even see it," said Woods Richardson, who permitted one hit and one walk. "When you have a guy who has that much time in the league, you trust him."

BOXSCORE: Twins 3, Seattle 1

The Twins didn't have a baserunner against Castillo until Max Kepler bounced a double past first baseman Ty France along the first base line in the fifth inning. Carlos Correa, the next batter, hammered a belt-high fastball off the center field wall for an RBI double.

Seattle's pitchers entered Monday with a 1.74 ERA over their last 22 games. After completing a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox, Baldelli said it would be seven straight games of "some of the best pitching you're going to see all year long." Castillo, who threw a first-pitch strike to his first 13 batters, gave up three hits and three walks in 6⅔ innings.

"That can affect people sometimes when you're watching the guy on the other side of the field who does it all and is putting up zeros too," Baldelli said. "It didn't put [Woods Richardson] off one bit."

Griffin Jax replaced Woods Richardson with a one-run lead in the seventh inning, and he fell into a bases-loaded jam after yielding two singles and a seven-pitch walk to his first three hitters. The Mariners scored only once with a Mitch Garver sacrifice fly sandwiched between two bases-loaded strikeouts.

"I don't care who is on the mound, anytime you have the bases loaded, nobody out and you only come up with one run, you're a little disappointed," Mariners manager Scott Servais said.

The Twins have won 13 of their last 14 games.