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Pregame notes: Michael Pineda on the hill; Nick Gordon sits again

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)

BALTIMORE—Michael Pineda makes the start tonight against an Orioles team that’s lost 16 straight to the Twins. Pineda, somewhat quietly, is putting together a really strong season, and his performance during his time with Minnesota probably hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.

In 217.1 IP with the Twins, the big right-hander has a 3.64 ERA. Pineda likely would have been the Twins’ Game 2 playoff starter in 2019 had he not been suspended for testing positive for a banned substance, and was slated to start Game 3 against Houston in the playoffs last year had the series gone that far.

This season, his 2.62 ERA and 0.985 WHIP leads the staff, and he may actually be the best candidate to represent the Twins at the All-Star Game, if Byron Buxton can’t return to health.

Pineda may also end up being the Twins’ most attractive trade option if they don’t work their way back into playoff contention. Given the numbers he’s put up, paying him a prorated portion of the $10 million he’s owed this year is a relatively small price to pay for a team looking to fill out their playoff rotation. If he can sustain anything close to what he’s done in the season’s first two months over the next two months, Minnesota should get a nice return, especially if the club is willing to take on some of his remaining salary.

Gordon on the bench again

Nick Gordon isn’t in the lineup again Tuesday. It’s been a strange start to the season for the former top prospect. The Twins called him up for three games in April but never put him in a game before optioning him back to Saint Paul. In early May, he was recalled but appeared in just one game before being optioned back to the Saints. He was recalled again on May 23 and has played just one game in his latest stint with the big league club. In total, he’s logged five plate appearances while spending more than two weeks on the active roster.

The Twins need to see what they have in Gordon. The former No. 5 overall pick is intriguing because his fall from consensus top 100 prospect to near afterthought had more to do with injuries and illness than performance. With the exception of one stint in his first taste of Triple-A in 2018, Gordon’s hit at every level, including a .298/.342/.459 slash line over 319 plate appearances in Triple-A in 2019, the last time he got consistent playing time. He’s dealt with GI issues and a bout of COVID over the past two years, but reportedly has the GI issues under control now and has put on weight.

Still only 25, the talent’s there with Gordon. If Andrelton Simmons is eventually traded, a spot should open up for him to get consistent playing time in the second half of the season. In my view, though, having him on the big league roster and playing him this little doesn’t do much for his development, or help the team assess whether he’s capable of succeeding at the big league level. It’s time to see what he can do.

Berríos’ strong start gives ‘pen needed rest

José Berríos pitched into the 9th inning Monday, saving a bullpen that’s been overworked and continues to struggle. The pen’s lack of effectiveness has been a big story of the season’s first two months, particularly their inability to strand inherited runners. They’re on pace to break the MLB record for percentage of inherited runners scored, though that’s very likely to stabilize over the season’s final four months.

Nevertheless, any chance of the Twins to get back in the race hinges on the ‘pen figuring it out. If starters like Berríos and Pineda can begin to work deeper into games as the weather warms up and arms get stretched out, it will allow Rocco Baldelli to rest his top bullpen arms more and save them for the highest leverage spots, rather than being forced to use inexperienced relievers like Brandon Waddell (who’s since been DFA’d and is now in Baltimore’s system) in key spots.