KANSAS CITY, MO. – Attack the strike zone, get ahead in the count and make the hitters get themselves out. That’s what happened Monday in Kauffman Stadium, and the result was an absolute gem.
“Hope the pitchers watched,” Ron Gardenhire said.
Yes, Carroll has played a lot of positions in his career, but never before had he volunteered to be a human white flag, taking the pitchers mound for an inning to save the overworked Twins bullpen in Minnesota’s most lopsided loss of the season.
One week into the Twins’ 27-games-in-27-days slog through July and August, no starting pitcher has gone seven innings, and Kevin Correia just became the fifth one to last fewer than six, putting relief-corps arms at risk. So when Correia gave up six runs in his two innings, and Ryan Pressly gave up seven while recording just four outs, Carroll made an offer that Gardenhire couldn’t turn down.
“I said, ‘I’d be happy to save a guy. The bullpen’s been throwing a lot,’ ’’ Carroll said after his first outing on the mound in, oh, about 24 years. Since he was playing for his dad in Babe Ruth ball, he figures.
Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson “looked at me and said, ‘You want to do it?’ I said, ‘Heck yeah, I’ll be glad to help out in any way possible,’ ” Carroll said. “So I ran into the tunnel, threw a little bit, and next thing I knew, we’re out there in the middle.”
He faced three hitters, and did what Correia couldn’t: Threw strikes. His “fastball” was mostly in the mid-70s — mlb.com’s pitch tracker sympathetically judged them changeups — but resulted in the night’s quickest inning.
“I told [catcher Chris] Herrmann I’d just throw fastballs, [and] try to throw them all away [outside] if they get there,” Carroll said. “I wasn’t going to do anything silly, just try to get the inning over as fast as possible.”
Two flyouts and a groundout: 1-2-3.
“I wish I could say it was fun,” Carroll said, “but it’s not what you ideally want to have.”
Josh Willingham predicted last week, as he prepared to return to action after knee surgery in July, that “I’ll be striking out again in no time.” And in his first at-bat in his first rehab game with Class AAA Rochester on Monday, he fulfilled his prophesy, swinging and missing a 2-2 fastball. He went 0-for-3 with a walk in Rochester’s game.
But Willingham’s presence as the Red Wings designated hitter, less than five weeks after his July 3 surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee, is a major step forward for the Twins, who need his power stroke in the lineup.
Willingham will play left field for five innings Tuesday, assistant GM Rob Antony said, serve as DH again Wednesday, and play an entire game in the outfield on Thursday. Assuming there are no setbacks, he will fly to Chicago on Friday and work out with his teammates, then be activated in time for Saturday’s game.
• Shortstop Pedro Florimon took extra fielding practice, and will resume hitting Tuesday, after reporting that his sore left wrist “feels a lot better today,” Antony said. “Right now, he’s not a DL candidate.”
• Kyle Gibson will start Game 1 of Friday’s doubleheader in Chicago and “we’ll fly someone in Thursday,” Antony said of Game 2. Liam Hendriks, who gave up five runs in 5⅓ innings for Rochester to Syracuse on Sunday, is presumed to be the likely starter.