OAKLAND, Calif. – It doesn’t take long for a makeover to be applied in the big leagues, especially when a team isn’t winning. Less than 14 months after his debut with the Twins, Kyle Gibson is suddenly the senior member of the Twins’ pitching rotation, the lone holdover from 2013. Maybe we should call the 26-year-old Gramps.
Kevin Correia has been granted a spot in the pennant race via Saturday night’s trade to the Dodgers; Mike Pelfrey probably is gone until next April, if then, and the Twins are committed, now more than ever, to a new set of of pitching arms. Trevor May made his major league debut, albeit an inauspicious one, on Saturday, and Monday night marks the introduction of Tommy Milone to the Twins’ starting five. The Twins rotation as of today includes four players 28 or younger, and nobody older than 30; even 31-year-old Ricky Nolasco won’t make the Twins appreciably older when he returns from the disabled list later this week.
“We’ve said all along we’re going to get younger, we’re going to give some guys a chance,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “These kids have talent, and they’re earned their way here. Now, show us what you’ve got.”
The Twins had the worst rotation in the majors last year, and their 4.96 ERA shows that this year hasn’t been a success, either. But Phil Hughes has been a free-agent bargain, including seven strong innings in a 6-1 victory at Oakland on Sunday; Gibson has grown into a solid big-leaguer; and May and Milone are being given their shot. Add top pitching prospect Alex Meyer to the mix, though probably not until next year in order to limit his innings, and the seeds are there for a reliable rotation, conceivably playoff-worthy, a couple of years from now.
Milone is a special case, because he is already three seasons into a big-league career, and a successful one, too. He has won 32 games though he is only 27, and his 3.55 ERA in 16 starts this season would lead the Twins. He doesn’t have the fastball that most teams covet, topping out around 88 miles per hour, which is why he was available. But his pattern of success gives the Twins confidence that he’ll upgrade the rotation.
“We’re excited,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of Milone’s debut against the Astros. “A guy who knows how to pitch in the big leagues, a good track record — we’re going to give him the ball and see what he can do.”
The Athletics know what he can do. Milone, acquired from Oakland for Sam Fuld on July 31, was an important part of two division-winning teams and even started Game 2 of the AL Division Series against Detroit in 2012, pitching six strong innings.
“Their coaching staff absolutely loves him,” Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said. He spent the weekend asking for input from Oakland pitching coach Curt Young and bench coach Chip Hale, “and they said he’s about as great a competitor as you’ll find. He doesn’t throw hard, but he never gives you the same pitch twice, and he knows how to keep hitters off-balance.”
The Twins weren’t discouraged by May’s face-plant on Saturday, because they understand how overwhelming the buildup was in the rookie’s mind, after a six-year wait in the minors. And they trust his minor league season, with a dominant 2.93 ERA at Class AAA.
“When you get to the big leagues, it’s a different [place] than anywhere else,” Gardenhire said of May’s two-inning, seven-walk, four-run disappointment. “The kid had a hard time. He just couldn’t gather himself. But we’ll let him try it again.”
And again and again, if they have to. The postseason is out of reach, the roster spots are available, and after all the anticipation, the Twins are turning things over to the kids.
“I love it. I absolutely love getting guys up here and turning them loose,” Anderson said. “We’ve seen Logan [Darnell] and Kris Johnson and some guys who just need a little more experience, and now May and Milone. It’s fun to put them in position to succeed, because then we succeed, too.”