MILWAUKEE — The Twins won a crazy game Tuesday, beating the Brewers 7-5 at Miller Park. Combined with an Indians loss to Boston, the Twins are back in first place in the Central.
After Ryne Harper blew a three-run lead in the seventh, Marwin Gonzalez answered with a three-run home run off Milwaukee relief ace Josh Hader in the eighth. Sam Dyson, fresh of the IL, pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, and Sergio Romo finished with a scoreless ninth.
After Martin Perez gave the Twins six very strong innings Tuesday, the bullpen imploded in the seventh.
Ryne Harper gave up a single to Keston Hiura, and Christian Yelich followed with a ringing double to score a run. After Ryan Braun reached on catcher’s interference, Harper then gave up a three-run home run Yasmani Grandal. He was finally lifted without retiring a batter.
There’s an argument to be made that Twins manager Rocco Baldelli should have gone to Dyson once the game got tight in the seventh, after Harper gave up back-to-back hard contact hits. Instead, Baldelli opted to stick with Harper, and the Twins paid the price.
Complicating the issue was Taylor Rogers being unavailable for the game, which Baldelli confirmed postgame. Rogers has pitched a lot recently, including back-to-back outings against Cleveland on Saturday and Sunday, the second of which ended in a 10th inning Carlos Santana grand slam. Baldelli likely wanted to work his way through the seventh with Harper and Tyler Duffey before turning the eighth and ninth to Dyson and Romo. It didn’t work out quite the way he wanted, but ultimately Gonzalez’s heroics enabled Baldelli to pitch Dyson and Romo the way he had wanted.
Dyson’s perfect eighth was a very encouraging sign for the Twins long term. His fastball touched 95, and he looked very sharp in retiring the top of the Brewers’ order. If Dyson is indeed returning to form, it’s a huge lift for Minnesota’s ‘pen.
Perez’s spot in the rotation appears secure.
Perez entered Tuesday’s start with a 5.87 ERA since June 1. In that time, he had given up 13 home runs in 61 1/3 innings pitched. Tuesday, he faced one of the better lineups in baseball. Milwaukee has slugged 188 home runs this season, third in the National League. They’re particularly good at home in hitter-friendly Miller Park, but it didn’t seem to matter to Perez.
Perez went six innings, giving up only one unearned run and striking out three. He touched 96 miles per hour with the fastball, and while he walked four, he was able to work his way out of trouble by inducing a lot of weak contact.
With Michael Pineda’s return imminent and Devin Smeltzer also in the mix, Perez may have been pitching to remain the fifth starter. While the Twins lack in top of the rotation arms, they do have quality starting pitch depth, with a multitude of arms—Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe, Randy Dobnak—at their disposal. Perez, though, earned another start with a strong performance.
Dyson was activated from the IL before Tuesday’s game, with Cody Stashak getting optioned back to Triple-A Rochester. If Dyson returns to his pre-Twins form, he would be a huge addition to a bullpen that’s in need of consistent arms at the back end, and Tuesday was a huge step in that direction.
Dyson said pregame that his arm feels better now than it has felt in two years, and that he has been battling pain in his right arm throughout that stretch. He took five days off from throwing, which seemed to clear up the tendinitis he had been experiencing.
“I feel fantastic,” Dyson said. “Much better. Honestly, the last two years my arm’s been just killing me, so the last four or five days have been amazing, being able to throw without any irritation at all.”
Dyson has never hit the IL because of an arm injury before, but it’s clear now that the tendinitis isn’t a new development. Whether the Twins knew that when they traded for him isn’t clear, and it’s perhaps something the Giants wouldn’t have disclosed, since he never missed time.
If his arm pain is truly gone, one would think he would return to being the control specialist and ground ball machine he has been in the past.
“When he showed up here, he wasn’t feeling great, so he went out there and gave it what he had,” Baldelli said. “I’m just happy to watch him go pain-free and see what he can do.”
It sure sounds like Nelson Cruz is going to be back after his 10 days on the IL are up. The specialist he saw in New York confirmed the Twins’ diagnosis that Cruz will be able to play through it. It’s a very strange injury, because rupturing the ECU tendon has allowed him to be pain free for the first time since injuring the wrist on Opening Day. Justin Morneau suffered the same injury in 2012, and said he felt better once the tendon ruptured.
“I feel good,” Cruz said. “I have to trust the doctor, he’s the one who knows.”
Cruz hit off a tee Tuesday, and the plan is for him to take batting practice in Texas. If that goes well, look for him to be activated next Monday when the Twins return to Target Field to take on the White Sox.
“It’s definitely a good feeling, and it allows us to just kind of drop him right back into a sort of progression and his routine,” Baldelli said. “And I hopefully believe he’ll be ready to go pretty soon.”
Pineda also appears to be on the verge of returning. Baldelli said they’re looking to “slot him in” in the near future. The guess here is Pineda enters the rotation in Texas, which would have the added benefit of giving Jose Berrios an extra day off as he works through decreased velocity.
Byron Buxton is also progressing well, according to Baldelli, though he isn’t as close to returning to action as Pineda and Cruz. It doesn’t sound as though he’s swung a bat yet, so Buxton could be looking at a September return. The sooner he’s back the better, of course, and one only needs to look at their record with and without him to understand his impact.
After Dobnak threw 68 pitches in four scoreless innings Friday, many thought he would be optioned back to Rochester. The Twins have had a revolving door at the front end of their pen this year, frequently pitching Kohl Stewart, Zack Littell, Stashak, and Thorpe in blowout losses, then optioning them.
That they opted to carry Dobnak for a few days when he wasn’t available suggests they value him in their bullpen, or perhaps as a spot starter at some point. Dobnak, whose story of going undrafted to indy ball to the big leagues is a good one, earned his way to Minnesota by pitching extremely well at three levels of the minor leagues. Now, he’s enjoying his first stint in the big leagues.
“It’s been unbelievable,” he said. “I could only dream something like this. Past four or five days have been unreal. I don’t have the words to explain it. Definitely incredible. Last 20 years playing ball, this is what everybody dreams of.”
Dobnak anticipated nerves for his big-league debut, but said he was mostly able to relax once he got on the mound at Target Field.
“I thought I was going to be extremely nervous but I wasn’t really nervous at all,” he said. “In the end it was just the same game I always played, just a few more people. I was able to stay under control, stay composed, and do what I’ve been doing my whole life.”
With a roster spot that seems secure for now, he’s looking to show he can contribute to a team chasing a division title, and give the Twins the stability they’ve been searching for in the bullpen.