Featured Posts | Twins

Here they come to save the day: Michael Pineda, Byron Buxton return to help Twins end six-game skid

Michael Pineda
Minnesota Twins pitcher Michael Pineda throws to a Chicago White Sox batter during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 1 2020, in Minneapolis. Pineda returned after serving a 60-game suspension for testing positive for a weight-loss drug on baseball’s banned substances list. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins’ brass allowed the MLB trade deadline to pass Monday afternoon without making any deals, expressing confidence the best additions to their struggling roster would be from players who were nearing their return. This was met with a healthy amount of skepticism from some, but on Tuesday night, at least, it ended up looking like an astute statement.
Michael Pineda, returning from a 60-game MLB suspension to make his first start of the season, gave up two runs (both in the first inning), six hits, walked one and struck out four in six strong innings, and center fielder Byron Buxton, back from an 11-game absence caused by left shoulder inflammation, robbed White Sox slugger Edwin Encarnacion of a home run in the sixth inning and drove in Nelson Cruz from second with a two-out single in the seventh to give the Twins a 3-2 victory over the White Sox at Target Field and end a six-game losing streak.
The win put the Twins (21-16) 1.5 games behind Cleveland and the White Sox, who are now tied for the AL Central lead, and 1.5 games up on eighth-seeded Toronto in the American League standings. The top eight seeds in each league will make the postseason tournament this year.
Pineda made his last start for the Twins on Sept. 6, 2019. A day later, it was announced that he had been suspended for 60 games (reduced from 80) for testing positive for a diuretic that is banned by MLB. That suspension was to have ended in mid-May, but that was before the coronavirus pandemic delayed the start of the season until late July. The suspension cost the Twins Pineda’s services in the American League Division Series against the Yankees last season, but it didn’t stop them from re-signing him to a two-year, $20 million contract in December.
Pineda began trying to make up for lost time on Tuesday after spending the first month-plus of the season working at the Twins’ alternate training site in St. Paul. He gave up singles to two of the first three batters he faced in the first inning — Tim Anderson reached on an infield single to open the game — before getting Encarnacion to fly to center for the second out. Eloy Jimenez’s double to left, however, scored two runs.
The 6-foot-7, 280-pound Pineda went to work after that retiring 11 of the next 12 hitters. The one batter who did get a hit, Anderson, was erased on a third-inning double play. The White Sox were still leading by two and loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth but Pineda got slugger Jose Abreu on a dribbler to first baseman Miguel Sano.
Pineda said he was “very, very excited,” to finally make a start after sitting out for so long and that he was focused on, “going to the mound and enjoying the game, enjoying the moment.”
“It feels pretty good,” he said of ending the Twins’ losing streak. “Especially winning the game for my team. We needed this win and hopefully everything is changed right now and we continue to win games. That’s what we want.”
Pineda threw 81 pitches and Baldelli pointed out that the veteran’s slider was especially effective. “It was a really competitive pitch throughout, throwing it for a strike at times, but also for swings and misses, too,” Baldelli said. “The fastball, changeup were good, it was just a heck of a start. I couldn’t even tell you how many pitches he ended up with. It wasn’t a factor in the decision of what we were going to do with Mike. It was a great start.”
The Twins cut Chicago’s lead to one in the bottom of the fifth, but Encarnacion looked as if he would get that run right back when he launched a shot toward left-center to lead off the sixth. Buxton, however, glided over to the warning track, reached into the flower pots and made a leaping catch to steal a homer away from Encarnacion, who entered Tuesday with 17 home runs at Target Field.
“It’s not even just the plays that he makes, it’s how he makes them,” Baldelli said of Buxton’s catch. “There’s a look to them and even Major League Baseball players are impressed and in awe at times of the things that he can do. He has a tendency to just do things that point you toward winning games. He makes very big plays, very meaningful plays offensively and defensively. But also the way he does it, it’s kind of cool. It’s enjoyable to watch him play from all perspectives so it was a big game for him and a great first day back.”
Buxton said he wasn’t sure if the ball was over the fence, saying, “I can’t even tell you. I caught it, I was going to throw it back in but my hand was shaking too much and I dropped it (on the transfer). It was one of those things where once you go up … everybody knows, I’m all about the ball. Once it went up, I’m all in on the ball. I think the biggest thing I took was I didn’t slam into the wall. That’s a big plus for me.”
Buxton’s defense, as is often the case when he’s healthy, played a big role in the Twins’ success. But he also contributed a key hit. After the Twins tied the score in the sixth inning on Jake Cave’s pinch-hit triple and Luis Arraez’s pinch-hit double in back-to-back at-bats, Buxton’s two-out hit in the seventh scored what proved to be the winning run.
Baldelli held a team meeting after the Twins’ 8-5 loss to the White Sox on Monday in a loss that continued a string of lethargic-looking performances. There was nothing lethargic about the Twins’ sixth-inning rally. Arraez celebrated as he reached second base, screaming into the Twins dugout, while Cave also celebrated.
In a game in which Baldelli elected to have Sano hit in the lead off spot for only the second time in his career, the manager ended the game by using Matt Wisler as a closer for the first time this season. Wisler, whose only previous career save came in 2016 with Atlanta, was appearing in his 10th game this season and had been used as a opener three times. Pineda’s return, however, could decrease the need for an opener and increase Wisler’s opportunities to pitch later in games.
Wisler’s availability on Tuesday was important because Baldelli had used five of his top-end relievers on Monday, including close Taylor Rogers. Rogers took the loss, giving up three unearned runs that were the result of a dropped fly ball by right fielder Max Kepler.
“Wis has been in that role where he’s pitched multiple innings and gone out there to start these games, which does kind of push some of those innings that he may get in the middle of a game and later in the game to some other guys,” Baldelli said. “We have guys to pick up those innings and throw them well. But I think there are going to be opportunities for Wis to pitch late in the game. Our bullpen has been pretty damn good for us. To give those guys a day where we were able to go out there and win a tough game and have Wis go out there and pitch a huge inning for us. … (That) is and was and will always be the types of things you need to happen, if you’re going to survive and continue to win in a Major League Baseball season.”