It was almost reminiscent of last year against the Houston Astros.
After a fairly-tight, moderately well-played game for the first six innings, the Minnesota Twins bullpen melted down in epic fashion in a 19-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday afternoon.
Last season on May 29, Ervin Santana gave the Twins seven solid innings — two runs (one earned), five hits and six strikeouts — before the bullpen took over and everything fell apart. When Santana left the game, the Twins led by a score of 7-2. After an 11-run eighth and a three-run ninth, the Twins fell by a 16-8 score.
On Saturday, Jose Berrios threw six decent innings, but ran into trouble in the seventh and finished with six earned runs and failed to get an out in the inning. By the time the final pitch was thrown in the frame, the Twins had gone from leading 6-4 to trailing 9-6.
The hits didn’t stop there, and the Rays put up triple nickels with five spots in the final two innings on the way to the blowout win.
How ugly did it get? Unconventional utility man Willians Astudillo hopped on the mound for the final frame, allowing five runs on as many hits while allowing a pair of home runs.
That’s right, Astudillo — almost exclusively a catcher in his minor-league career — has pitched and played second base, left and center field all before taking a single defensive squat behind the plate in the big leagues.
Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:
Berrios was a rollercoaster
The only damage Berrios incurred during his first trip through the order on Saturday was hitting Carlos Gomez with a pitch in the third inning. Otherwise, he had a no-hitter going into the fourth inning before hitting some turbulence.
In the fourth, the Rays went single, walk, double, flyout, groundout, double, double, lineout as the batted balls against Berrios got pretty fierce.
In order, the batted balls went 97.2 mph, 106.7, 105.1, 81.2, 93.6, 98.4 and 61.3.
Berrios bounced back with a strong fifth inning, retiring the side with a strikeout, single and strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play to end the inning. The sixth was nearly as easy with a walk mixed into an otherwise clean inning.
But the seventh — it did not go great.
Mallex Smith opened the inning with a walk and Adeiny Hechavarria singled up the middle. Manager Paul Molitor signaled for lefty Zach Duke with the top of the order coming up, and in the span of six batters, a 6-4 lead turned into a 9-6 deficit.
Kevin Kiermaier singled home Smith. Matt Duffy singled home Hechavarria. Jesus Sucre hit a sac fly to score Kiermaier. Joey Wendle tripled to deep right-center to clear the bases.
At the end of the day, Berrios’ ledger showed six earned runs in six-plus innings, but really it was a hit-or-miss day for the young righty — one that showed he’s still inexperienced and finding his way in the big leagues despite being an All-Star.
Something that’ll be worth watchin is that Berrios’ velocity has been down a bit of late. After averaging in the 94-95 mph range early in the season, he’s been far more in the 92-93 range over his last four starts.
Jose Berrios first 16 starts:
94.1 mph average heater, 3.15 ERA
Last four starts:
92.7 mph average heater, 5.92 ERA
— Brandon Warne (@Brandon_Warne) July 15, 2018
Over that time frame, his ERA is 5.92.
Just something to keep an eye on.
Kevin Cash learned his lesson
After things snowballed fairly quickly on his starters on Thursday and Friday, Cash wasted no time getting Archer out of the game when things got remotely dicey on Saturday.
As a result, Archer threw just 4.1 innings despite having fairly solid numbers. He fanned seven batters, walked just one and only allowed a single earned run on five hits. Pitch count could have been a factor — Archer had thrown 93 to that point — but most old-school managers would have tried to keep him in there “to get the win.”
Then again, team wins > pitcher wins and a pitcher can’t win if the team loses.
It wasn’t as though Archer was really struggling that badly, either. Bobby Wilson reached on a ball Wendle mishandled as he clearly didn’t gauge the amount of time he had to make a play. Joe Mauer walked, and Eddie Rosario hit a fly ball to center for the first out of the inning.
But with Brian Dozier coming up, Cash went to the bullpen to get Diego Castillo. Castillo got Dozier to ground into a fielder’s choice and struck out Jorge Polanco, but sandwiched in the middle was Eduardo Escobar’s infield single that cut the deficit to 4-2.
“I thought Arch was pretty good, but the pitch count got high,” Cash told reporters during his postgame availability. “(His) stuff appeared to be back in order with what we typically see with the fastball and slider. He just had a lot of 3-2 counts, foul balls and a lot of good at-bats, which we’ve seen all series from the Twins lineup.”
“My stuff was probably better than it has been all year,” Archer said. “(The Twins) are just hot right now. We did our thing offensively, but they still put up six runs. They had some really good at-bats against me early on.”
Archer also told a funny story about Max Kepler, who homered off him early in the game.
“The one thing I’m frustrated about is a year or two ago, I was at the same restaurant as Max Kepler. He was a rookie and I know he’s from a different country, so I sent a bottle of wine over to his table just to be like ‘Congrats’ and that’s the way he repays me. I’m a little upset with myself for being such a nice guy, and then he returned the favor that way. It is what it is.”
Archer said it was the Bachelor Farmer where he saw Kepler.
Honestly, this one slipped away from the Twins before things got ugly
The Twins held the lead for a grand total of a half-inning before the snowball began to build.
The seventh inning — the aforementioned debacle of an inning started by Berrios — came right after the Twins pushed across four runs to give themselves a 6-4 lead, and honestly the Twins had a chance for more but Dozier was thrown out at home on an ill-advised attempt to score when the Rays had a bit of a snowball fight on an Escobar single.
It’s easy to look back in hindsight and bring it up, but it feels like the Twins get a ton of trail runners thrown out on big plays. No matter how you feel about in-game momentum or anything like that, it almost always means that a player is being taken off the bases from scoring position, and it either ends an inning where the Twins were rolling, or adds another out to the tally, at least.
That’ll have to be cleaned up in the second half.
Now pitching: White Rhinooooooo
You didn’t think we could avoid talking about this, did you?
Here are the vitals on Astudillo’s outing:
- 35 pitches thrown
- 30 fastballs (84.3 mph average, 86.5 mph top, one swinging strike)
- 3 changeups (69.4 mph average, 73.8 mph top)
- 1 slider (80 mph)
- 1 curve (74.2 mph)
Astudillo became the 12th Twins position player to pitch in a game, a second this season (current Chicago White Sox outfielder Ryan LaMarre).
Matt Belisle’s time is up
It’s not that Belisle isn’t a valuable member of the clubhouse or anything, but it just simply isn’t working on the field. Through 13 appearances, he’s working with a 9.49 ERA (4.03 FIP) as he’s allowed 23 hits for a 2.11 WHIP so far. The FIP suggests some luck is involved, but opposing batters have hit .404/.433/.632 against him, and that’s even including a stretch between June 22 and July 13 where he allowed just one earned run (1.23 ERA) over seven appearances (7.1 innings).
It’s just time to get Tyler Duffey, Gabriel Moya, Jake Reed or even Nick Anderson up here to see what they can do. Don’t be surprised if it happens early in the second half.
After the game, Molitor announced that Aaron Slegers was going on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, and Fernando Romero was coming up to start Sunday’s series and first-half finale.
Romero was terrific in his last start with the Red Wings — incidentally, last Sunday before Triple-A teams broke for their midsummer classic — tossing seven innings of two-run ball with six strikeouts and no walks.
On Sunday, Molitor told reporters about what his expectations were for Romero, not only when they sent him back, but now that he’s been recalled.
“When we sent him down, there were some specific things in regards to mechanics and how we wanted him to better use his pitches and the combination of pitches and how he just went about executing and trying his find to not only minimize and be more economical with his pitches,” Molitor said. “I think we’ve seen that at times. There have still been some command issues. But from what I know of this guy to get the call, he’s going to be excited and try to contribute and help us win this game.”
As for Slegers, he said the injury sort of came on after he faced the Royals in his start on the homestand.
“(I) felt pretty normal after the Kansas City start and just wasn’t getting better, if not getting worse as I was throwing throughout the week until today when I had to say something,” he said. “Threw a flat ground and had to stop in the middle of (it). It’s not like I was unable to pick up a baseball but just had to say something.”
- The Twins will start the second half with a rotation of Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi against the Kansas City Royals, Molitor announced on Sunday.
- The Twins fell to 8-2 on the current homestand and 28-22 at Target Field this season.
- Polanco extended his current hitting streak to five games.
- The Twins reached 50 losses on July 14 this year. Last season, the Twins incurred their 50th loss on July 25 (49-50)