Twins’ Michael Pineda suspended 60 games for violating PED policy

Michael Pineda’s season is over and it’s possible his time in a Twins uniform is done as well.

The righthander, who has been the Twins’ best starter in recent months, received a 60-game suspension without pay on Saturday after he tested positive for hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic on MLB’s list of banned substances. The commissioner’s office announced the suspension.

Pineda was initially suspended for 80 games but ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that an appeal got that reduced to 60 games after evidence showed that the substance in Pineda’s system was not used as a masking agent for performance enhancing drugs. An 80-game suspension is usually handed down to first-time offenders.

Pineda’s suspension will start immediately and he isn’t eligible for the postseason. The Twins will enter Saturday’s game against Cleveland with a 5.5-game lead on the Indians in the AL Central.

“We were disappointed to learn of the suspension of Michael Pineda for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program,” the Twins said in a statement. “We fully support Major League Baseball’s policy and its efforts to eliminate banned substances from our game. Per the protocol outlined in the Joint Drug Program, the Minnesota Twins will not comment further on this matter.”

Pineda was not available to comment before Saturday’s game against Cleveland but he did issue a statement.

“I’d like to begin with my sincere apologies to the Twins organization, the fans, my teammates, and my family for my error in judgment,” Pineda said. “I mistakenly took a medication that was given to me by a close acquaintance, who obtained it over-the-counter and assured me it would safely help me manage my weight. I ingested a few of these pills without the consent of the Twins’ training staff.

“Testing revealed trace elements of a substance called hydrochlorothiazide, which is a banned diuretic under baseball’s testing program. This was shocking for me to hear. I never intended to cheat the system, other players, or opposing teams. While I am pleased that the arbitrator found there was clear and convincing evidence to reduce my discipline, I realize that I am ultimately resonsible for what goes in my body and therefore respect the 60-game suspension that remains. I hope that I can be an example to others about how important it is to check with experts before taking any substance from an outside source.”

Pineda gave up one run and four hits with two walks and a season-high 10 strikeouts in six innings in the Twins’ 6-2, 11-inning loss to Cleveland on Friday night Target Field.

Pineda, who missed all of 2018 after undergoing “Tommy John” surgery on his right elbow, is in the second season of a two-year, $10 million contract he signed with the Twins. He will become a free agent this offseason and will have to serve the remainder of his suspension at the start of next year.

Pineda entered Friday with a 6-1 record and 3.04 ERA in nine starts since July 6. He hadn’t given up as many as five earned runs in a start since a 6-1 loss on June 23 in Kansas City. Pineda had surrendered three earned runs or fewer in 10 of his past 11 starts, including six in which he had given up one earned run.

“Well, I mean, it’s definitely challenging to lose him,” Baldelli said Saturday. “Michael Pineda is a big member of this team in a lot of different ways, beyond the field as well as on it. Because of that, it does create a challenge. Our team has been pretty resilient with everything that’s been thrown at it to this point, and I think we’re going to have the ability to acknowledge this and process what’s going on and still continue to go out there and do our jobs. But I think that today the attention is going to be on Mike and everything going on around it, and that’s OK, and we will handle it as a group.”

The 6-7, 280-pound Pineda got off to a rough start this year, posting a 6.21 ERA in his first six starts. His ERA by month since then had been 4.50 in five starts in May; 3.58 in five starts in June; 2.59 in four starts in July; and 3.52 in four starts in August. He had given up three earned runs in 12 innings in two starts this month.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Twins reliever Sergio Romo said. “It’s hard to believe. I really don’t have much to say about that. It’s something that … I can’t even think of anything to be honest. It does leave you speechless. It’s a guy who has been a key contributor to why we’re in the position we’re in.”

Pineda’s suspension means the Twins’ rotation is now Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Martin Perez and Kyle Gibson, who is on the injured list because of ulcerative colitis. Baldelli said Saturday that Gibson is doing well and might be able to make a start in next week’s series against Washington at Target Field.

This is the second time Pineda has been suspended by MLB. He was suspended for 10 games in 2014 while pitching for the New York Yankees after putting pine tar on his neck to help get a better grip during a game in Boston.

The Twins have had three players suspended for PEDs in recent years. Shortstop Jorge Polanco missed the first 80 games of the 2018 season after testing positive for Stanozolol and pitcher Ervin Santana missed the first 80 games of the 2015 season after a positive test for Stanozolol.

Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz was suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal on Aug. 5, 2013. “It’s like an injury,” Cruz said of Pineda’s suspension. “We’re missing (center fielder Byron) Buxton. We’ve missed myself a few times. We try to see it that way. When you see yourself going through this, it either can put you down pretty bad or you can step up. I think somebody has to step up for him.”

Wetmore: How will Twins pick up the pieces after Michael Pineda’s suspension?