BOSTON — Minnesota Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey loves this time of year because the games are meaningful. It also doesn’t hurt that his team is at historic Fenway Park, where his pitchers will face a tough lineup even in a disappointing season for the Boston Red Sox.
It’s the right kind of test at this time of the year. Everyone knows the Twins can hit, but it’s an open question as to whether their pitching can navigate them through the postseason. And a bullpen game, started by Randy Dobnak, provided a great opportunity for Falvey to see the depth of his relief corps in what is inevitably a pressure situation.
“Some years you’re making call ups in September that are about development only, and that’s just reality,” he said, alluding to Twins teams of years past when they were out of it by this point. “You might be in a position from a win-loss standpoint where you want to get guys experience at the big league level.
“Well, every out matters right now. So now we have the added benefit of adding in a competitive environment. We’re not going to put a guy out there if we don’t think he can help us.”
Falvey had to be happy with Dobnak and encouraged by Lewis Thorpe, who pitched three solid innings and then faltered as his pitch count got closer to 60. But he put Trevor May in a tough spot after walking Jackie Bradley Jr., his second walk of the inning to put men on the corners with only one out.
May got Mookie Betts to fly out to right, but Rafael Devers hit a hanging breaking pitch and put it in the right field seats.
Minnesota had entered that inning up 6-0 after the offense chased Boston starter Rick Porcello from the game. Thorpe gave up a run before being replaced by May, and Devers closed the gap to 6-4 in one swing.
“He’s extraordinarily talented and still growing and figuring things out and maturing,” said Baldelli, who called Devers one of the better young hitters in the game. “There are a lot of days where you can probably point to — you could look all around the zone and he’s covering every pitch.”
May has moved away from the breaking ball recently, which has been a successful development. But his pitching has been confounding all season: He has stuff, and has had success in high leverage situations and yet has a pattern of hanging curveballs at inopportune times.
Rogers also had a rocky outing. He entered the game with two outs in the eighth inning and gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Andrew Benintendi.
“When I got behind him, you know, you throw a pitch and he hit it pretty well,” he said. “Is what it is, I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’m not sure anybody is better in baseball than me against lefties. So. That’s a bold statement, but I’m pretty sure it might hold true.”
He got out of the eighth inning with the lead in tact, but gave up a leadoff single to Brock Holt in the ninth. Marco Hernandez moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt, but Rogers fielded a sharp comebacker from Mookie Betts to record the second out and got Rafael Devers to strike out to end the game.
“I was a cat out there. Reflexes,” he said in jest. “I want to be that guy for this team. To face the hitters in crunch time. So I think that’s the first step, I want to be out there. And I feel I can do the job for them. With that mindset going into it, hopefully I probably have a better shot of getting the job done.”
Falvey and the Twins know what they have in Rogers. May is a bit more of a mystery, but it’s he has stuff and tends to pitch better if he can start the inning. Younger players like Dobnak and Thorpe may be of more interest to Minnesota’s front office right now, since they need to know which pitchers to add to the playoff roster, and therefore can trust in tough situations.
Dobnak pitched a scoreless first inning in front of 11 friends and family, who came from the Pittsburgh area to see his first start.
“I’ve been a starter my whole career so I just stuck with the routine I do,” he said, while acknowledging that it’s unique to pitch in Fenway, especially as an undrafted player who came out of the United Shore League. “Weighted balls, stretching to get my legs loose and whatnot, just treat it like another start, you know.”
Falvey said that he loves the story — Division II player who rose rapidly through the Twins minor league system this year — but tries to evaluate him as he would a player who he drafted in the early rounds.
“I don’t care one lick (about where he was drafted),” said Falvey before the game. “If you’re a 29th rounder, first rounder, independent league, when you’re at Triple-A, we’re looking at who can help us here. To see him make changes, adjustments, now that he’s here he’s a major leaguer, and here to get outs at the end of the day. For him to do what he’s doing, it’s great, but we try not to think about that.”
As for Thorpe, he said that getting nine straight outs gave him confidence.
“A lot,” he said. “Just to be able to go out there and throw strikes and control everything, it’s just huge. To get that victory tonight to help us go up 6 1/2 — it was a good team win.”
He admitted that he was nervous in the first inning he pitched, but felt he settled in after that.
“The first couple, I was nervous,” he said. “Especially with the relief outings, I was nervous. A little bit not comfortable. But now, I’m starting to find my groove and command all of my pitches.”
A win in Fenway vs. Porcello is impressive, even if the Red Sox are unlikely to make the postseason this year. It’s even more so because it was a bullpen game. It wasn’t pretty, but this might be the reality for the Twins should they hold off the Cleveland Indians, who lost to the White Sox to fall 6.5 games back, should they reach the postseason.
The offense can carry them. And the pitching looks like it will make things interesting.