Managerial, bullpen decisions haunt Twins in historic loss – Will they linger?

Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

The Minnesota Twins were on the verge of beating the team with the best record in the league, with their best pitcher on the mound. Instead, heads are hanging afterwards.

Some want to blame yesterday’s 16-8 loss to the Houston Astros on the 13-inning game the day before. A game in which the entire Minnesota Twins bullpen was used, and some say used up.

Ervin Santana threw seven solid innings, giving the Twins an 8-2 lead going into the eighth inning, but he was laboring, and after 114 pitches it was time to pull the starter and close out win number eight for the Twins’ ace.

Instead, what followed was a comedy and tragedy of mental errors, physical miscues, poor use of the bullpen and strange defensive substitutions.

And one of the weirdest rain delays you’ll ever see. All that into an 11-run Astros rally that turned that 8-2 Twins lead into a 13-8 deficit.

Before we look at the decisions made during the game, we need to take a look at the transactions made after the previous night’s extra-inning defeat.

The front office knew they would need some extra arms for the Houston series, so they sent down Kennys Vargas and once again shelved Justin Haley on the DL for two fresh arms from AAA Rochester.

Drew Rucinski has pitched well as a reliever for the Red Wings. In 18.1 IP he’s posted this line: 21 K / 3 BB / 3 HR / 2.95 ERA / 0.98 WHIP. All but the home runs allowed are solid, and deserved promotion.

The other arm to get the call was starter Jason Wheeler, who has never pitched in relief in the minors and wouldn’t be called upon to start for the Twins. He was scheduled to pitch for Rochester yesterday, so if the game was a blowout one way or another, it would probably mean Wheeler would get the ball.

In the sixth inning, Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario ran after a ball into the left center field gap, with Rosario making a sliding catch while Buxton inexplicably dove for a ball he couldn’t reach. As he slid by in front of Rosario, his right hand was clipped by Rosario’s cleats, injuring the ring finger on his throwing hand.

As a precaution, the Twins pulled Buxton and inserted Ehire Adrianza into the game as a defensive replacement. Max Kepler, who has performed extremely well as a backup center fielder, stayed in right field as Rosario moved to center instead.

Rosario has had problems in center over the past couple years, and it makes no sense why Kepler didn’t get the call. For some reason, Molitor will not play Rosario in right field, even though even was excellent when called upon to play that position in the World Baseball Classic.

Either way, Adrianza’s failure to catch a ball at the wall, and Rosario’s inability to track down a blooper, both contributed to a much larger rally for the Astros.

Then, with an 8-2 lead, Molitor eschews using any of his fresh arms, when logic dictates that if you were going to utilize Wheeler at any time, this would be the time. Instead, he called upon Ryan Pressly, who threw 25 pitches in relief the day before and 19 in the Tampa Bay opener.

Pressly proceeded to give up three singles, a walk and a hit batter, and left in relief of Craig Breslow, who threw 25 pitches the day before and 17 in the Rays opener. Again, two fresh arms in the bullpen.

After it was over, the worst bullpen performance in Minnesota Twins history was turned in. Thirteen runs allowed, and they did it in just two innings, wasting another stellar outing by Santana.

While the Twins’ bullpen was middle of the pack ERA-wise coming into the game at 4.19, they dropped near the bottom (26th) after the game, with the team bullpen ERA falling to 4.90 in just two innings of work.

It’s now time for the Twins front office to address their most glaring need, the bullpen, if they want to continue to contend in a weak AL Central. They have a top offensive and defensive team, with three reliable starters.

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With a bullpen of retreads and failed starters, it’s time they looked deeper into their own farm system at arms not on the 40-man roster, or trade for an established bullpen arm. Breslow, Matt Belisle and Justin Haley are not relievers for a first-place contending team.

They first two are both 36 and were considered a stop-gap in a year in which the Twins were looking to rebuild after a 103-loss season. Sign these two veterans and maybe a year or two down the line our young guys will be ready.

Haley was a flyer in the Rule 5 draft. When you are coming off a historically bad season, you can take chances on young arms to take up a spot on your 25-man roster – unless you suddenly contend.

Twins do have three arms in the minors who deserve a look outside of Rucinski: John Curtiss, Mason Melotakis and Trevor Hildenberger. All three, of course, would require someone else to be dropped from the 40-man roster to be called up.

Curtiss is the closer at Chattanooga, hasn’t allowed a run this season and sports a 25/10 K/BB ratio in 17.2 innings. Melotakis is the most ready, with good results at Spring Training and AA Chattanooga, 9.0 K/9 with a WHIP of just 0.89.

Hildenberger is the one most are looking forward to joining the bullpen. In just his fourth year, his control and strikeouts deserve promotion. He has 186 strikeouts versus just 24 walks and a 0.85 WHIP throughout his minor league career.

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Notes: Drew Rucinski was optioned back to AAA Rochester, and Buddy Boshers was recalled. Another chance for the Twins to call up one of their promising young arms, and instead they opt for familiarity.