It didn’t start poorly. In fact, it started quite well.
Nelson Cruz pasted a 1-2 two-seam fastball from Drew VerHagen into the left-center gap for a double in the first inning to drive home Jorge Polanco and give the Minnesota Twins a 1-0 lead.
Miguel Sano followed in the second with his 24th home run of the year.
Jake Cave pushed the lead to 3-0 with his third home run of the season in the fifth, and while Jose Berrios was far from cruising, he was working out of jams and making the Detroit Tigers look like the last-place bunch they were.
Everything unraveled in the sixth.
Six of the seven batters Berrios faced in the inning reached. The one who didn’t hit a sizzling line drive to short.
And when it seemed to most everyone in the stadium that Berrios had reached the end of his line at 88 pitches, his manager rewarded his tireless worker of a righty with the chance to work out of the jam himself.
Four pitches later, little-known utility man Ronny Rodriguez hit his second big home run this year at Target Field — this time with the bases loaded and off the Digital Clubhouse sign tucked behind the foul pole in left — to put the Tigers ahead 5-3, and they never relinquished the lead in a 9-6 win on Friday night.
Rodriguez came in hitting .222/.256/.394 in 122 big-league games with a total of 14 home runs.
Here’s what we saw:
Berrios simply didn’t have it
While Berrios didn’t allow any runs over his first five innings, he was routinely in hot water. In the first inning he stranded a pair of runners with a Brandon Dixon fly out that Max Kepler caught at the base of the fence in right-center. He allowed two hits to open the second inning before Rodriguez was thrown out trying to advance on a ball in the dirt. A pair of strikeouts got him out of the frame.
The third, fourth and fifth were relatively uneventful — though most of the contact induced was hard — but the sixth is where everything went downhill, and fast.
Harold Castro singled on the second pitch of the inning. He moved to second on Miguel Cabrera’s single. Dawel Lugo — who entered for an injured Niko Goodrum in the third — doubled Castro home and moved Cabrera to third. Dixon followed with another hard out, this time a liner to Jorge Polanco, and then rookie Travis Demeritte walked to load the bases.
With Tyler Duffey warming in the bullpen and Berrios 16 high-pressure pitches into the inning, it appeared as though the obvious decision was to lift the starter. After all, Duffey had been nails in recent weeks. His last 12 appearances resulted in zero earned runs and a .300 OPS against. In his last 18 appearances dating back to early July, Duffey had a 1.88 ERA and 20-7 K/BB ratio in 14.1 innings with a .428 OPS against.
And yet Baldelli left it up to Berrios to clean up his own mess.
Now this shouldn’t make it sound like it was a completely indefensible position to have. For all his recent struggles, Berrios is still the best pitcher on this staff. Undisputedly so. And it wasn’t like he was over 100 pitches, though he did appear to be laboring a bit more than someone under 90 normally would.
Berrios’ first pitch to Rodriguez was an 82 mph curveball that made the hitter spin out like the batter’s box was quicksand.
The next was an 81 mph curve that was low.
After that was an 82 mph curve well off the plate that Rodriguez waved at, setting up a 1-2 pitch that turned the game on its head.
Berrios hung that last one, 82 mph and center cut.
Frankly, it’s hard to hang a curve more than this:
Of the 15 batted balls Berrios allowed that were 90 mph or higher off the bat, only one came off the bat harder than Rodriguez’s homer at 104.2 mph. That was Dixon’s lineout to short — the only out Berrios got in the sixth — which was 107.8, carrying an xBA of .840.
“There’s always a question of when you run into a situation like that int he middle of the game there are always argument you can make on both sides of it,” manager Rocco Baldelli said of the decision to let it ride with Berrios. “Obviously the decision we made did not work out. I think he was lined up to face some hitters and we liked some of those matchups. We just weren’t able to get the outs that we needed to get. We just have to execute against those and the execution just wasn’t there.”
What Baldelli didn’t feel was an issue, however, was that Berrios went to the well four times in a row with his curveball.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to question the pitch selection,” Baldelli said. “It just comes down to throwing it the way he can. It goes like that with any pitch. You could look at any pitcher in baseball with guys that have tremendous stuff or not as good of stuff, when they make the pitch that they want to make, usually they’re going to get a pretty good result.
“When Jose throws that breaking ball the way he wants to and snaps it the way he can, it’s a tough pitch, especially against right-handed hitters. We saw that earlier in the at-bat, we saw that earlier in the game but when he throws the one that he threw in that situation, it’s probably going to get hit a reasonable amount of time.”
Berrios was not available after the game for comments.
VerHagen was pretty darn good
The 28-year-old righty came in with a season ERA of 6.67, but didn’t look anything like that as he pumped fastballs routinely in the 93-95 mph range with a slider that Jake Cave said was very, very good.
It was that slider, however, that Cave homered on in the fifth inning — his first of two on the night — but even still, he said the righty camouflaged it well.
“He was throwing well,” Cave said. “He had a really good slider. When he was throwing that in the zone, out of the hand it looked like something that was going to be hittable. For the most part he was throwing it where he wanted to. It was tough. We’ve faced a couple guys the last couple of games that have really been on. So that’s tough, but I thought we still battled well.”
In all, VerHagen got seven swinging strikes on the slider and 16 total in 96 pitches — a very, very good rate (16.7 percent, where 10 percent is about average). Not only were VerHagen’s 16 swinging strikes a season high — they were nearly double his previous season high of nine, done twice this year.
“He did throw the ball well,” Baldelli said. “I think his breaking ball played well to both left and right handed hitters. He was able to pitch up with his fastball. He has pretty good stuff. If he executes and makes the pitches he wants you cans see him missing some bats for sure.”
Rodriguez has a Bit of a penchant for big home runs at Target Field
He may have come into Friday’s game with just 14 career home runs, but three of them have come at Target Field — and all this season.
In early May, Rodriguez took Michael Pineda deep in the second inning and followed it up by taking Trevor Hildenberger deep in the ninth, breaking a 3-3 tie and ultimately giving the feel-good Tigers a 5-3 win.
That win pushed them to 17-19 on the season.
They’re just 22-68 (.244) since — a 40-win pace over a full season.
For what it’s worth, though, it was one of the straws that broke the camel’s back in a tough May for Hildenberger. In his next outing he allowed three runs and recorded just one out against the Los Angeles Angels, and was sent to Triple-A Rochester after the game. He hasn’t been back to the big leagues since.
Notes & Quotes
- Friday was Cave’s first MLB multi-homer game.
- Berrios has an 8.44 ERA since Aug. 1 and a 4.89 mark in the second half.
- The Twins have struck out 25 times over the last two games.
- Baldelli on Berrios’ confidence level after a rough patch: “I think he’s frustrated for sure. No one blames a guy for being frustrated when he’s not getting the results that he wants. José is a guy we have complete confidence in. He’s a guy that we trust that he’s going to be looking for what is next and how to get back to where he’s been for a long period of time. But it’s definitely a point where it’s a little bit of a regrouping point.”
- Baldelli on Berrios making adjustments/adding velocity from recent starts: “It may have been that (adjustments). Did I hear anything discussed, see anything different? Not really. I thought he was throwing the ball pretty well up to that point. His raw stuff is back. His velocity is good. His breaking ball is good and the execution just wasn’t. In that inning, a lot happened very quickly. But did we see anything in the sense of seeing it coming? Not really.”