The Twins have lost back-to-back games in Cleveland but still emerged from a 9-7 loss on Wednesday with a 40-20 record (tied with Houston for the second best in baseball) and a 9.5-game lead over the Indians in the American League Central.
So why did Twins fans seem to have an ominous feeling following this defeat? That’s simple: On the same night the Twins lost out to the Cubs in the Craig Kimbrel sweepstakes, the bullpen gave up four runs in the seventh and eighth innings to enable Cleveland to rally for the victory.
The timing could not have been worse, or better if you were a Twins fan who wanted to point out chief baseball officer Derek Falvey had blundered by not making the better offer for a closer with 333 career saves.
Righthander Blake Parker, who leads the Twins with eight saves, suffered his first loss since March 30 against Cleveland and blew his first save of the year. He gave up three runs, including two home runs, and three hits in an inning. After giving up one run in 16.1 innings in 17 appearances from April 2 to May 25, Parker has surrendered seven runs, seven hits and four home runs in 4.1 innings his past four times out of the bullpen. That’s a 14.54 ERA.
Signed to a one-year, $1.8 million free-agent contract, Parker is a key part of this Twins’ bullpen. Is his recent slide just a blip on the radar or a sign of things to come?
Parker, who will turn 34 on June 19, held hitters to a .172 batting average in 2017 as he became the Angels’ closer in mid-August of that year and converted seven of eight save opportunities. He also struck out 86 hitters in 67.1 innings and walked only 16.
Last season, also with the Angels, Parker’s fastball velocity dipped from an average of 94 miles per hour in 2017 to 92.8 miles per hour. His strikeouts per nine inning also decreased from 11.5 to 9.5 and his ERA went from 2.54 to 3.26. He surrendered 12 home runs in 66.1 innings and finished with 14 saves in 17 opportunities.
Parker ‘s earned-run average currently sits at 3.74.
“I didn’t have my command of any of my pitches,” Parker told reporters after Wednesday’s loss. “Fastballs right down the middle. It’s not something I enjoy. I definitely need to get to the corners because the middle’s not where you can pitch in this league.”
Parker’s blown save was only the Twins’ fourth of the season — they have converted 16 save opportunities — and if he can get out of his recent slide, it should quiet the angst about not getting Kimbrel. Otherwise, the Twins soon will need to look to the trade market for help.
EYE ON PEREZ
Speaking of struggles pitchers, lefthander Martin Perez started his first game Wednesday since being knocked out by Tampa Bay last Thursday after only 2.2 innings in a 14-3 defeat at Tropicana Field. Perez gave up six runs, six hits, two walks and struck out three in easily his worst start of the season.
So how did Perez respond on Wednesday in Cleveland? Not as well as the Twins were hoping.
He gave up five runs (two earned), six hits, walked two and struck out only one in throwing 92 pitches over 4.2 innings.
Perez, who was signed as a free agent in January, has been one of the feel-good stories of the baseball season. He opened the year in the bullpen, making three appearances, before getting his first start on April 15 against Toronto.
In his first eight starts, Perez went 6-1 with 44 strikeouts, 17 walks and a 2.17 ERA in 49.2 innings. There was plenty of discussion of all the changes Perez made after a disappointing final season in Texas and the fact that he had added a cut fastball to his repertoire.
Perez pointed out, rightfully so, following Wednesday’s game that “two games does not mean a lot.” Nonetheless, one has to wonder if there is a happy medium between what we saw in Perez’s first eight starts and what we’ve seen in the past two?
New Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson has gotten plenty of credit for what he has done with the staff. Now, it appears that Perez and Parker might need some tune-up work.
MARWIN’S ON THE MOVE
Marwin Gonzalez entered Wednesday having played 34 games at third base, eight games at first, five in left field, five in right field and one at shortstop. He also had been the DH for two games. But there was at least one position missing from this list. That was second base, a place where Gonzalez played 32 times last season for Houston.
On Wednesday, he finally got a start as Jonathan Schoop got a day off. Gonzalez went 0-for-2 and is hitting .247/.322/.400 with seven home runs and 20 RBIs in 52 games but his versatility and glove work have been extremely important.
The only position Gonzalez saw time at for Houston last season, but has not played for the Twins in 2019, is center field. He played center in two games for the Astros in 2018 but did not make a start.