The skies were overcast and the weather in the mid-60s on Saturday when it was announced that Major League Baseball had suspended Minnesota Twins pitcher Michael Pineda for 60 games, a reminder that October is near. Not only has he been one of Minnesota’s best pitchers since April, but the Twins are already shorthanded with Byron Buxton limited to defense and pinch running, Nelson Cruz and Jake Cave leaving Friday’s game with injuries and various other ailments that have limited or kept players out of games recently.
“It’s definitely challenging to lose him,” said Rocco Baldelli. “Michael Pineda is a big member of this team in a lot of different ways, beyond the field as well as on it. Because of that, it does create a challenge. Our team has been pretty resilient with everything that’s been thrown at it to this point.”
Pineda tested positive for hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic that can be used to mask detection of a performance-enhancing drug. His season is over, and he cannot play in any playoff games. His two-year, $10 million contract with the Twins ends at the end of the year, but his suspension will carry over into next season.
Minnesota signed Pineda, 30, two years ago, knowing that he was unlikely to play the first season of his contract because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. He had a 6.21 ERA in April, likely due to having so much time off recovering from injury, but had a 3.46 ERA and a 118:22 strikeout to walk ratio in 117 innings.
Given that All-Star pitchers Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi have regressed in the second half of the season, Pineda could have been in line to start Game 1 of the playoffs. Since July 1, Berrios has a 5.37 ERA and Odorizzi sits at 4.95. The two other primary members of the rotation, Kyle Gibson (5.11) and Martin Perez (5.68), have also struggled in the second half.
Twins PR made it clear before the media met with Baldelli that he couldn’t get into specifics, beyond the statement the team released.
“Like we handle most things most of the message will be internal,” said Baldelli. “But we’ll discuss it amongst ourselves and run our business that way.”
“I just woke up and found out,” said Nelson Cruz, who famously naps before games. “Definitely something where we’re all really sad because he’s such a big part of the team. He’s been our best pitcher in the second half. Definitely a big loss for us.”
The Twins face the Cleveland Indians and Washington Nationals at home, then the Tribe in Ohio. Minnesota was 5.5 games up on Cleveland when Pineda was suspended. The Nationals, who feature former Twins Brian Dozier and Kurt Suzuki, are in second place in the NL East and fighting for a Wild Card spot.
“Well, it’s like an injury. We’re missing Buxton. We’ve missed myself a few times. We try to see it that way,” said Cruz. “When you see yourself going through this, it either can put you down pretty bad or you can step up. I think somebody has to step up for him.”
The Twins need their starters to step up anyways if they are going to make the playoffs. Their offense is historically good, but there was an ongoing concern that their pitching would not match up well against baseball’s best teams in the postseason — a dark cloud hanging over their head heading into October that intensifies with Pineda’s suspension.