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Twins pitching on cruise control through first series

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jose Berrios (17) throws a pitch in the top of the first inning Thursday, March 28, against the Cleveland Indians at Target Field. David Berding / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jose Berrios took the ball on Opening Day and shut out the Cleveland Indians for 7 2/3 innings. Two days later, Jake Odorizzi followed, using impeccable fastball command to mostly quiet the Indians again. And on Sunday, Michael Pineda, in his first start since 2017, allowed just one hit in four innings before making way for Martin Perez in a 9-3 rout of Cleveland.

Through their first 21 1/3 innings of the season, the four Twins starters have given up just four runs while striking out 32. The whole staff’s 39 strikeouts is the most through three games in franchise history.

It’s a small sample size, but notable nonetheless as the starting staff strung together an impressively strong first series this season. And that’s without rotation staple Kyle Gibson, who will make his season debut Wednesday, April 3, in Kansas City.

Odorizzi credited Berrios, who will make his second start of the year on Tuesday against the Royals, for setting the tone.

“It’s important for us to have good pitching throughout this year, and we’re off to a really good start,” Odorizzi said. “…Starting pitching is one of those things that turns into a contagious sort of thing. You see a lineup get hot, you can see starting pitchers get hot and it just keeps going. And trying to one-up the next guy in the most competitive good way possible.”

Behind Berrios, Gibson and Odorizzi, the Twins rebuilt the backend of their rotation, slotting in Pineda, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery and a torn meniscus, and signing Perez, who tweaked his mechanics and worked on his cutter this spring to good results.

Early on, the results have been promising.

“In those really good environments where you get staffs that really get it done, yeah, that’s what it looks like,” first-year manager Rocco Baldelli said of starters feeding off each other. “That’s a good competitiveness and competitive environment. These guys have all gone out there and not just pitched well, but they’ve pitched extremely well.”

Affiliate rosters

Top prospect Royce Lewis will begin this season with the Twins’ Advanced Class A team in Fort Myers, while the Twins’ No. 2 prospect Alex Kirilloff will start in Double-A on the Injured List.

Kirilloff hurt his wrist late in spring, but is expected to return in April, according to the club, since the injury is minor. Brusdal Graterol, the top pitching prospect in the Twins’ system, also will start the year in Double-A, as will Jorge Alcala, Griffin Jax and Luis Arraez, among others.

Last year’s first-round draft pick, Trevor Larnach, will begin the season in Fort Myers, as will second-rounder Ryan Jeffers and Jhoan Duran, who the Twins acquired last July from Arizona and are high on.

Blayne Enlow, Yunior Severino and Jordan Balazovic are among those beginning the year at Single-A Cedar Rapids.

Brent Rooker and Luke Raley will start the year at Triple-A. Both Stephen Gonsalves (left elbow flexor/pronator strain) and Nick Gordon (acute gastritis) will begin the year on Rochester’s IL.

La Tortuga night

Trying to capitalize on folk hero Willians Astudillo’s popularity, the Twins announced “An Evening with La Tortuga,” on Monday. Over the weekend, Twins players were wearing SotaStick Co.’s green “La Tortuga,” shirt. Now, the Twins are introducing one of their own.

They will give away a T-shirt with a photo of Astudillo running on the front and a turtle shell with Astudillo’s number on the back on April 26 for fans who purchase seats to the game against the Orioles through their special ticket package.