MINNEAPOLIS — Eddie Rosario’s pinch hit home run in the seventh inning Thursday helped to lift the Twins over the Oakland A’s and looked as if it could be a significant moment for a first-place team that had lost its first two games of a nine-game homestand.
Two days later, Rosario’s heroics are long forgotten and the Twins are scuffling once more. The latest blow came Saturday night at Target Field in a 5-4 loss to Oakland as Taylor Rogers, easily the most reliable reliever in the Twins’ bullpen this season, blew his fourth save.
What hurt most about this one was Rogers got the first two hitters he faced in the ninth inning — Matt Chapman grounded to second and Matt Olson struck out swinging — before Mark Canha was hit by a pitch with the Twins up by one. Ramon Laureano then doubled to left to put runners on second and third. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli could have elected to intentionally walk Khris Davis to load the bases but instead decided to pitch to the A’s designated hitter.
Davis hit a scorching liner on the first pitch he saw that went off the glove of first baseman Ehire Adrianza and scored both Canha and Laureano.
— Oakland A's (@Athletics) July 21, 2019
“If that ball is six inches to the right we’re not talking about this,” said Rogers, who leads the Twins with 14 saves and has a 1.97 ERA. “It is what it is. Just tried to get ahead. With runners on base the first goal is to get ahead.”
Rogers said his failure to close out Saturday’s game won’t cause him to make any changes, and Baldelli said his faith in his top reliever isn’t impacted at all.
“I believe Rog is as good a relief pitcher as there is in baseball,” Baldelli said.”He’s a guy that’s going to singlehandedly win games for us, which we’ve seen him do many, many times and hold really good lineups completely silent. We expect to see outings like that, and we get them often from him. That being said, nobody is perfect, even though at times he seems to be for long stretches. And that’s OK. We’re just going to continue to run him out there in the biggest of spots and watch him work.”
As for the rest of the Twins’ bullpen, it has been reported that chief baseball officer Derek Falvey is looking to add a reliever or two before the July 31 trade deadline. It was telling on Thursday night when Baldelli allowed starter Kyle Gibson to work seven innings and then turned to Rogers for a two-inning save. It was telling again Saturday when Baldelli let starter Jose Berrios throw 113 pitches through 5.2 innings before turning to Tyler Duffey.
The Twins held a 2-0 lead when Berrios departed but that disappeared in the top of the seventh inning when righthander Zack Littell gave up back-to-back home runs to Canha (a two-run shot) and Laureano to give the A’s a 3-2 lead. The Twins scored two in the bottom of the inning — one on a Miguel Sano home run that ended up in the third deck in left field, 443 feet away from home plate, and the other on a sacrifice fly by Jonathan Schoop — to retake the lead.
Littell had given up only one home run this season before the back-to-back shots. He has now surrendered three in 18 innings.
“Honestly, it was unexpected and not something you would normally see from him,” Baldelli said. “He’s done a really nice job for us. It’s why we’re going to him in a spot like that. You watch an outing or you see something not go our way, that does happen. And it doesn’t change the way you think about it the next time. I don’t see these things as trends. We’re talking about what I would consider some one off situations that have not played out in our favor, and obviously disappointing, but we’re still going to rely on those guys.”
The Twins’ once comfortable lead on Cleveland in the AL Central is now at three games and it only stayed that way because the Indians’ six-game winning streak came to an end Saturday with a 1-0 loss to the Royals.
Until Rogers’ blew the save it looked as if the Twins would gain a game on Cleveland for the first time since they beat the Indians a week ago Saturday.
“I think not only for the team, but also for me, we’re not in a good run right now,” Berrios said. “We’re battling day in, day out. We’re trying to make a big thing for our city and our team — trying to make the playoffs. A game like that comes as a loss to us. Tomorrow’s another day, and we’re going to be ready.”
Sano had found himself in the cleanup spot only once this season — he did not start that game — before starting Saturday’s game hitting in that spot.
Sano had a good night, going 2-for-3 with a home run, a double, and a walk. He’s hitting .241/.337/.565 with 14 homers and 26 RBIs in 48 games. Sano has spent recent weeks changing his approach at the plate and is now hitting .318 with 10 runs, four doubles, four RBIs and a 1.025 OPS in 14 games this month. This comes after he slashed .214/.290/.512 with seven home runs and 13 RBIs in 23 games in June.
“First of all, he definitely has had quality at-bats,” Baldelli said of Sano’s recent performances before Saturday’s game. “He’s done a very nice job. That being said, with (Rosario) also not being out there today — and he’s held down the four spot for us for much of the year — I think it’s more of the best lineup for today. Our lineups change, obviously, many times over the course of a year. It’s a day-to-day thing in a lot of different spots in the order. I think (Sano) could find himself in a number of those spots going forward, just like he has in the past. But I think we can be really happy with what we’ve seen from him at the plate, and I think he’s feeling pretty good about his at-bats as well.”
Sano’s home run came off a slider from A’s starter Brett Anderson and had an exit velocity of 113.8 miles per hour. “I’d been ready for a breaking ball because I’d been taking a lot of good pitches,” Sano said. “We go to the full count and he gave me that pitch right down the middle.”
— FOX Sports North (@fsnorth) July 21, 2019
Sano has now started games this season batting fourth, fifth (nine times), sixth (six), seventh (21), eighth (five) and ninth (once) in the order.
Rosario, who returned from a sprained ankle in mid-July after missing 13 games, was not in the lineup for the second time in three games on Saturday. He was in left field on Friday for a game that began in 94-degree heat, and Baldelli said that with a night-day game situation on Saturday and Sunday the left fielder was going to be rested in one of the games. The Twins elected to sit him against Anderson, who is a lefty.
Baldelli said Rosario also was dealing with “stomach issues” on Friday.
“Last night was a pretty tough night to be out there playing if you’re dealing with those sorts of things,” Baldelli said. “I’m sure he was not at 100 percent but he went out there and competed well. We just want to make sure he’s all right. He always wants to be out there playing regardless of how he’s feeling, but we just thought it was the best thing. We’re going to get him back into his normal, it’s not even a rotation, his normal time out there on the field. He’s going to be out there on a regular (basis), like he has been all year, we just want to make sure he’s ready to do that.”
Rosario did get into Saturday’s game as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth inning for Jake Cave but was intentionally walked to load the bases. Mitch Garver then grounded into a double play to end the game.
Center fielder Byron Buxton is eligible to return from the seven-day concussion list on Sunday but it appears very unlikely that will happen. Baldelli provided no promises as to when Buxton will be back after suffering concussion-like symptoms a week ago Saturday in Cleveland when he dived for a line drive.
“Buck came in, seemed good, was going to take part in some more activities,” Baldelli said. “He’s going to probably sweat it out, move around a lot, see how he’s feeling. Again, he has to pass the protocol testing before he can be out there and play. We’ll probably focus our energy on that (Sunday). See how he’s doing. I can’t say what day we’re going to activate him but he’s doing well.”
Asked if that meant it was unlikely Buxton would return Sunday, Baldelli said: “The doctors run the show here as far as situations like this when someone is dealing with something like concussion-related symptoms. They’re going to be the ones to decide when he’s going to do everything and how it goes. For me to comment on anything specifically, I can’t. I can tell you he looks good. I can tell you he’s doing a heck of a lot better than he was and he’s feeling good. He’s moving around. He can do some baseball-related activities right now and it’s gone well.”