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Zulgad: No relief: Twins need to move struggling Alexander Colome out of closer’s role

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Oakland Athletics
Apr 21, 2021; Oakland, California, USA; Minnesota Twins pitcher Alex Colome (48) delivers a pitch against the Oakland Athletics during the ninth inning of a Major League Baseball game at RingCentral Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

The Twins signed Alexander Colome to a one-year, $6.25 million contract in February, hoping the veteran closer would help bolster the back end of a bullpen that was getting a makeover. The righthander had 30 saves in 62 games two years ago and then added 12 saves in 21 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season with the White Sox.

Chicago decided to make a significant investment in free agent closer Liam Hendriks (four years, $54 million) during the offseason and allowed Colome to walk. The Twins appeared to be the beneficiaries. Colome had blown only three saves in 2019 and one last season. But 17 games into this season one has to wonder if the White Sox celebrated more when they signed Hendriks or when the Twins signed Colome.

Colome, 32, has appeared in seven games and he has done the one thing you don’t want a closer to do: He’s made his appearances a high-wire act and turned into the 2021 version of Ron Davis. (For younger readers either Google R.D. or ask your parents.) Colome’s latest meltdown came Wednesday as the Twins finished up a disastrous road trip that was supposed to be six games but ended up being shortened to four because of a COVID outbreak on the team.

Colome took over for lefthanded reliever Taylor Rogers in the ninth inning with the Twins holding a 10-9 lead on Oakland. Colome hit Ramon Laureano leading off the inning and he scored on Matt Chapman’s sacrifice fly after Matt Olson singled to right to move Laureano to third. That gave Colome as many blown saves as he had in 2019.

Colome got a chance to turn that blown save into a win when Byron Buxton hit a two-run homer in the 10th to put the Twins up. Colome got two quick outs but then walked the next two hitters before Mark Canha hit what should have been a game-ending ground ball to second baseman Travis Blankenhorn. He was unable to handle the ball, enabling Chapman to score and moving runners to second and third.

Blankenhorn had come in as a pinch runner for Josh Donaldson at second to start the 10th. Donaldson’s exit meant Luis Arraez moved from second to third in the bottom of the inning and when Laureano hit a shot to third, and Arraez airmailed the throw to first, two runs were able to trot home to give the A’s a 13-12 win and an 11th consecutive victory.

Colome’s final line: 1.2 innings, one hit, four runs, one earned, two walks and a strikeout. He threw 49 pitches and 29 strikes as the Twins lost their fourth in a row and fell to 1-9 in their past 10. While Colome was hurt by the poor play behind him, he also had a chance to close out the game. Instead, he is now 1-2 with a 5.63 ERA and two saves, having given up 11 runs (five earned) and 11 hits in eight innings.

Colome’s outings even have to cause anxiety for normally even-keeled manager Rocco Baldelli. His appearances are met with trepidation from Twins fans on Twitter, and that’s being kind.

The reliever’s struggles began in the opener when he blew a save in a 6-5, 10-inning loss in Milwaukee. He then blew another save on April 11 by giving up three runs and four hits in one-third of an inning in an 8-6 loss to Seattle.

The Twins are now 6-11, putting them in last place in the AL Central. Colome is far from the only issue on Baldelli’s ballclub, but he certainly isn’t helping a team that was expected to contend for a third consecutive division title.

Rogers, who had 30 saves two years ago and nine last summer, has rebounded from a rough 2020 and pitched 7.2 innings without giving up an earned run. Righthander Hansel Robles, who had 27 saves as the Angels closer in 2019, had his ERA rise to 6.43 on Wednesday as he gave up two runs in two-thirds of an inning.

Baldelli has made it clear that he doesn’t designate one reliever as his closer because he likes to have the ability to use his pitchers in different situations. The manager might want to put that plan into action by using Colome earlier in games and having Rogers at the back end of the bullpen.

It might not be perfect — nothing with the Twins is these days — but it would beat watching Colome continue to turn late leads into losses.