Right-handers Pablo Lopez and Sonny Gray have developed into quite the one-two punch for the Minnesota Twins as they hit the stretch run in their quest for an American League Central title.
Lopez improved to 4-0 with an ERA of 0.36 in four August starts by throwing six shutout innings in a 5-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday in the opener of a three-game series in Minneapolis.
Now it's Gray's turn on Saturday night.
Gray (6-5, 3.04 ERA) has allowed just 14 hits and four earned runs over 19 innings (1.89 ERA) while winning two of his three August starts, striking out 25.
Gray is 4-3 with a 4.20 ERA in nine career appearances (eight starts) against the Pirates. He enters Saturday's game off a 3-0 win at defending National League champion Philadelphia on Sunday, when he allowed only two hits and three walks over six innings while striking out seven.
Minnesota has won four of its last five games and has a five-game lead over second-place Cleveland in the AL Central.
Pittsburgh, which has lost four of its last five contests, had its chances early against Lopez in Friday night's opener. The Pirates got the leadoff batter on in each of the first three innings, including back-to-back singles by Ji Hwan Bae and Bryan Reynolds to start the game and a double by Alika Williams to open the third inning. But Lopez pitched out of both jams while extending his scoreless innings streak to 19.
"We had him in situations we wanted him in — we just didn't capitalize," Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. "We have to capitalize when you have run-scoring opportunities, and we had multiple early in the game."
The Pirates finished the game 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
"It was one of those gritty outings where nothing came easy," said Lopez, who allowed six hits and two walks over six innings while striking out seven.
"More Pablo being Pablo and just kind of getting it done inning after inning," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "I can't single one thing out. He's doing everything at a very high level. ... He's doing it all right now."
Michael A. Taylor gave Minnesota all the offense it needed in the fourth inning when he hit a two-run homer into the left-center bleachers to break a scoreless tie.
"Very impressive," Taylor said of Lopez. "He's been steady all year. I mean, he's such a tough pitcher. I feel bad for these hitters up there. Even when he falls behind, he finds a way to get it done."
Pittsburgh will turn to All-Star right-hander Mitch Keller (9-8, 4.27 ERA) in an effort to even the series on Saturday.
Keller, who has never faced Minnesota, has lost his last five decisions dating to a 7-1 victory over San Diego on June 28. In eight starts since, he has allowed six or more earned runs three times, including eight runs twice. His ERA his increased almost a full run from 3.34 to 4.27 during that span.
Keller came away with a no-decision in his last start, a 4-2 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday. He allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits over six innings while walking three and striking out seven.
—Field Level Media