MINNEAPOLIS — Nerves didn’t bother Ryan Jeffers in his big league debut. Minnesota’s ballpark was empty, after all.
Driving in the first run of the game and directing a masterpiece by José Berríos from behind the plate, the lanky catcher sure looked like he belonged.
Berríos pitched one-hit ball over six scoreless innings, Nelson Cruz hit a two-run homer and the Twins beat the Milwaukee Brewers 7-1 on Thursday night.
Jeffers drove in a run with a single in his first major league at-bat, going 2 for 3 with a hit by pitch to help the Twins improve to 7-1-1 in series this season.
“Not having the pressure of the fans out there might honestly make that debut a little easier,” said Jeffers, a walk-on at UNC Wilmington four years ago who has become one of the organization’s top prospects. “It’s just another one of those things COVID throws at you that you’ve got to roll with.”
Justin Smoak homered for the Brewers in the seventh off Tyler Duffey, but Cruz responded with his ninth homer and 24th and 25th RBIs of the season in the bottom of the inning for the Twins. Jorge Polanco delivered a two-run double in a three-run eighth to finish off the Brewers, who failed for the sixth time this season to raise their record above the .500 mark.
Berríos struck out eight of the first 13 batters he faced and didn’t allow a hit until Eric Sogard’s one-out single in the fifth inning. The Brewers were being no-hit on Tuesday by Twins starter Kenta Maeda until Sogard’s leadoff single in the ninth, a game the Twins eventually won 4-3 in 12 innings.
For the Brewers, matching season highs in runs (nine) and homers (four) on Wednesday didn’t prove to be a slump-busting win. They drew just one walk against Berríos, who had nine strikeouts, and let their opponent score first for the 18th time in 23 games this year.
“He did a really good job with his breaking ball today,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It was just in the zone way more than we had seen on video.”
The Brewers have been outscored 33-4 in the first two innings. They’ve played eight straight contests without a run in the first or the second, and Counsell even said before the game he implored star Christian Yelich “to do something about” the early struggles.
Berríos (2-3), the two-time All-Star right-hander, took full advantage.
“When I came to the ballpark, I said, ‘Today’s the day. I need to do it now. I can’t wait any more time,’” said Berríos, who lowered his ERA from 5.92 to 4.75.
“We’ve seen this guy many times over,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That’s the guy we remember.”
Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff (1-2) pitched into the sixth inning, allowing nine hits and one walk while leaning on some superb defense to keep the score close.
Eddie Rosario was thrown out at the plate in the fourth trying to score from first on a double Miguel Sanó, with left fielder Brock Holt and shortstop Orlando Arcia on the relays. Sogard ended that inning with runners at the corners, leaping against the protective netting along the empty third base seats to snag a foul popup.
The Brewers fell to 24-8 in starts by Woodruff over the last three seasons.
“It’s getting pretty frustrating. The shortened season is making everything seem a little more magnified,” Woodruff said. “But we’ve still got some time left.”
In the third, after Ildemaro Vargas hit the first triple of the season for the Twins, Jeffers knocked him in. Promoted before the game to replace the injured Mitch Garver, the 2018 second-round draft pick was applauded by his teammates, who called for the ball so Jeffers could have the keepsake. The ballpark game presentation crew played “Feels Like The First Time,” the ballad by British-American rock band Foreigner that was released 20 years before Jeffers was born.
“There’s so many memories from tonight,” said Jeffers, who finished last season at Double-A Pensacola.. “I’m going to cherish all of them.”
Brewers: RH reliever Corey Knebel was placed on the 10-day injured list with a strained left hamstring. Knebel has allowed 11 hits, seven runs and four walks in just 6 2/3 innings this season.
Twins: Garver (side muscle strain) and CF Byron Buxton (shoulder inflammation) both went on the injured list before the game. 2B Luis Arraez missed his second straight game with a sore knee.
Brewers: RHP Adrian Houser (1-1, 3.27 ERA) pitches on Friday night in Pittsburgh to start a three-game series. RHP Chad Kuhl (0-1, 3.21 ERA) takes the mound for the Pirates.
Twins: RHP Jake Odorizzi (0-0, 5.14 ERA) starts on Friday night in Kansas City to begin a three-game series and a season-long 10-game road trip. LHP Danny Duffy (1-2, 4.44 ERA) pitches for the Royals.