It’s hard to fully grasp how poorly things have been going for Minnesota Twins outfielders recently. But we’ll try paint a picture:
- Byron Buxton had surgery to repair his labrum, and his availability next spring is in doubt.
- Max Kepler has been dealing with a shoulder issue for months, he said this past weekend, and it came to a head when it locked up on him on Sunday and forced him out of the game after the first inning.
- Jake Cave is dealing with a groin issue and hasn’t played since last Friday.
- Marwin Gonzalez has been dealing with a core muscle issue and hasn’t played in two weeks.
That brings us to Wednesday’s starting trio in a game the Twins lost in a light mist to the Washington Nationals, 6-2.
Luis Arraez came into Wednesday’s start in left field as a veteran of 107 big-league innings in the outfield — 41 more than he played altogether in his six minor-league seasons. LaMonte Wade Jr. played 127 innings in center field this season in the minors, and hasn’t played the position regularly since 2017 in Double-A Chattanooga.
And right field — oh, right field. Eddie Rosario has told Rocco Baldelli repeatedly that he’s willing to play right whenever the team needs, and that’s exactly what he’s done in Kepler’s absence.
But like his time in left, it hasn’t been pretty. Coming into Wednesday’s game, Rosario was minus-13 runs above average in the outfield — tied for the worst in all MLB with Seattle’s Domingo Santana.
And on Wednesday, it was, well, call it what you want. It wasn’t an error, but you can call it a miscue, an iffy route or perhaps the nagging effects of the ankle issue that has lingered since he initially suffered it in late June. Rosario went on the injured list on June 28 — retro to the day before — and has been a mess offensively since.
Since then, Rosario has hit just .259/.272/.420 and has seen his OPS tumble from .841 to its present-day mark of .784. This marks the second season in a row that an injury has precipitated Rosario’s late-season woes — last year it was his shoulder — but this time it also appears to be bothering him in the outfield as well.
And maybe that stands to reason, as he’s not only battled the ankle that cost him three weeks but also a sore hamstring that cost him some time as well. Injuries to a player’s lower extremities are the ones most likely to hamper them in the outfield — there’s just no denying it.
But whatever the reason, Rosario missed a play that not only Kepler makes with relative ease, but one that a healthy Rosario makes in his sleep.
With two outs in the third, Nationals designated hitter Howie Kendrick lifted a slicing fly ball to right. Rosario moved back and appeared to have it in his sights until it simply soared just over his glove and off the wall. With Juan Soto off with contact due to the number of outs, he scored easily to give the Nationals a 3-0 lead.
Two pitches later, the lead was 5-0 as Ryan Zimmerman crushed a home run to left off a Perez fastball.
It’s easy to play the “what-if” game, but if Rosario makes that catch — and the expected batting average on the play was only .370, per Statcast — those three runs don’t score.
The Twins answered back with a two-run homer off the bat of Jorge Polanco in the bottom half of the inning, but that was it as Stephen Strasburg was firmly in command all evening long.
And to Perez’s credit, he rebounded to give the Twins clean innings in the fourth and the fifth, with relievers Zack Littell, Brusdar Graterol and Randy Dobnak combining to allow just one earned run — a Trea Turner home run in the ninth — over the final four innings.
Perez’s final line looked worse than he probably deserved — five innings, five earned runs, four strikeouts and three walks — and both he and Baldelli noted that while they really would hope to see that play made, there’s also something to be said about the lefty picking up his teammates as well.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” Baldelli said. “With the help of some plays behind him I think we could have been in a spot where maybe he’s given up one run — maybe no runs — but probably a run or two or something like that along those lines.”
“A lot,” Perez said when asked how much he was hoping he could get the third out and render Rosario’s misplay moot. “(I) set my mind to hold the game right here. We’ve just got to score runs late in the game, and we have a good team. We have powerful guys. I was just trying to stay focused and throw a lot of strikes. Like I said, we didn’t score, and they played better baseball than us. They won. That’s baseball. We can’t do anything about it.”
Ultimately, Baldelli suggested that he felt Rosario makes that play far more often than not — but that Wednesday just wasn’t one of those nights.
“First of all, I think Eddie probably makes that play the vast majority of the time,” Baldelli said. “(He) probably misjudged just how hard the ball was hit and ultimately didn’t make it. The ball is going to come back a little bit on him, back towards him. Again, I’m going to bet on Eddie making that play the vast majority of the time. Obviously he’s in right field — a place he hasn’t played a ton in — but I think he’s pretty comfortable out there and I feel comfortable putting his name in right field. I don’t think that’s the issue.
“It’s more of a one-off play and just a play that we hope gets made but today it wasn’t but that’s alright and we’ll get it next time.”
Notes & Quotes
- Littell worked a scoreless sixth inning, and since his recall in mid-June has been excellent: 0.79 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, .215/.279/.354 line against.
- Wednesday marked the first game Brian Dozier had played in his career against the Minnesota Twins. He did not draw the start on Tuesday night, and went 0-for-4 with a strikeout on Wednesday.
- The Twins fell to 18-34 in games where the opponent scores first and 5-20 when scoring two or fewer runs.
- Arraez has at least one hit in each of his last nine games with an at-bat. His longest hitting streak this season is 12 games.
- Baldelli on Rosario’s recent funk at the plate: “I don’t think he’s been at his best. We know he’s a fairly streaky guy. He’s always going to be like that. But I think he’s still dangerous. We never know when he’s gonna break out. For us to sit here and say we know these things, and we can tell when he’s going to go out there and hit two or three home runs…none of us know that. But he’s a guy that has a great history of producing and I’m looking forward to continuing to put him in the lineup and watch him go out there and do his thing. I think he can turn it around at the drop of a dime, I just can’t tell you when that’s going to be.”
- Baldelli on the team’s handling of currently injured players: “Well I think we’re treating everything as responsibly as we can. Our guys are dealing with injuries. This isn’t like hey, we’re resting guys and trying to keep them out of the lineup getting them ready for the last couple weeks of the season. Our guys are dealing with ailments that are keeping them out. It doesn’t matter if it’s spring training, April or late September. What our guys are dealing with right now, each of them, they’re things that you can’t play baseball with and some of them are getting really close to being back and obviously we’re excited to put some of those guys back in the lineup where they’ve been all year long but they’re certainly dealing with real things.”
- Baldelli on how close Kepler, Sano are to returning: “(Kepler) took some swings in the cage, I believe. Everything’s gone well with Kep. All the tests have come back well with him and he’s been good. Also Sano-related, it’s completely precautionary, he’s been doing really well too. But we sent him to get some imaging as well, but everything came back clean. He should be good.”
- Baldelli on how Gibson, Thursday’s starter, has kept his arm in shape during layoff: “He’s been throwing all along. Maybe initially he probably took a few easy days, and again had some important things going on at home as well. He’s been still working out, still throwing…I think the break from going out there and having to make the starts for a couple weeks is gonna really help him out. But he should be ready to go. He threw his bullpen. He’s in good shape.”