Happy Labor Day from Target Field where Jose Berrios (2-4, 9.24 ERA) has been recalled from Triple-A and is set to face righty Ian Kennedy (9-9, 3.66 ERA) and the Kansas City Royals.
Berrios threw a season-high 14 strikeouts in 8.0 innings at Triple-A Rochester before being recalled by Minnesota. The outing itself forced the Twins’ hand a bit, making it a matter of where they were going to slot him in.
“We looked at everything in terms of who we’ve been putting out there, and the fact that he went down there and had a good start right out of the shoot. We thought we’d go ahead and give him another opportunity today,” said manager Paul Molitor.
“He had a big strikeout game down there, and we all know the expansion of the zone for Triple-A hitters is a little different than for major league hitters. But I think he showed in that start, from Stu and from Mike down there and our Triple-A staff, that he was pretty good with his fastball command and his breaking ball seemed a lot sharper — there wasn’t the backup breaking ball that seems to get him in trouble from time to time.”
The Twins are hoping Berrios has good offensive support today. Minnesota has hit four home runs in their last two games, and hit 11 in their three-game series with the Chicago White Sox.
“They’ve been doing a nice job offensively,” said Molitor. “Some guys, it seems like every day they find a way to contribute — Dozier is probably the top of the list. But it’s been nice to have some production from the bottom of the lineup. Yesterday, Buxton again with a big hit and a big day and Murphy stepped in there and contributed.”
They are facing stiff competition today, however, with Kennedy on the mound.
“Experienced guy, he’s pitched well against us, probably comes in fairly confident about how he’s throwing the ball,” said Molitor. “He can work the inside part of the plate very effectively with both right and left, where it sets up his off-speed stuff. He’s a strike-thrower, we just have to be ready and stay aggressive.”
Kepler strikes out five times
Max Kepler has been a revelation for the Twins this season, establishing himself at right field and going on a tear earlier in the year which included a three-home run game.
He has cooled off a bit, however, and went 1-7 with five strikeouts in yesterday’s 12-inning contest.
“I don’t know exactly how he felt about his day and how things kind of went downhill throughout the course of the game offensively. I see him trying to regroup each at-bat, because you know every time he goes up there, he has a chance to do something, especially a close game late like that,” said Molitor.
“But the combination of being pitched well, maybe fouling off some pitches. He had a chance to hit and then having to fight with two strikes — learning experience. And we talk about young players and the challenge of playing September baseball for the first time. So I think we’ve communicated well with these guys, and we’ll try to keep them fresh as we can and they’ll have to deal with some things that they haven’t had to experience in the past, as far as staying strong for an extra month.”
Asked if he thought Kepler would be the guy in the lineup to strike out five times in a day, Molitor chuckled.
“We’ve got some other candidates, if you want to talk about that,” he said in jest. “And the strikeouts in the game today, they’re still up or near all-time highs. Guys are gonna have rough days, especially when you get into a long game, you get six, seven at-bats.”
The five-strikeout night puts him in rare company, albeit with some pretty good hitters in Twins history.
Three catchers, one plate
Molitor is juggling three catchers right now, with Kurt Suzuki and Juan Centeno playing most of the season with the Twins and John Ryan Murphy’s call-up before yesterday’s game.
Murphy went 3-for-4 yesterday, hitting his first home run as well as recording his first multi-hit game, making Molitor’s decision all that tougher knowing that Suzuki and Centeno might be gone at the end of the year.
“It’s gonna be a little bit challenging trying to balance out our situation with the three guys here. Some of it has to do with when I look back and see good matchups with our starting pitchers, not that anybody would catch anybody exclusively,” he admitted.
“Murphy’s gonna try to get in there from time to time. Kurt, I still want to play when I can. He’s got good matchup numbers tomorrow against Gee and fairly good against Duffy.
“It’s just a combination of our battery, as well as some of the matchups offensively, that we can get the best production.”
As for his impression of Murphy, specifically, he said only so much can be gathered from one day.
“He had a good day behind the plate, and he had one block that I think he missed. But he made a nice throw, and I don’t know how you judge a catcher on a day when you give up 13, but sometimes there’s no correlation and sometimes there is. It’s more execution of pitches from my vantage point,” he said.
“Offensively, his first couple of swings I think he got a little bit long, and then the third time, he got that one to fall out there at left-center, which kind of got him going. And then he did a nice job of, I think he shortened up a bit on the home run swing, on the ball that was in.
“I can’t put a lot of judgement into one day. I think there were some good things about his at-bats, and there were some things that you’re looking for in terms of consistency. But he’s gotta feel good about it — doubled his hit total.”