As Rocco Baldelli walked through the clubhouse after Wednesday’s game, Nelson Cruz whistled to get his manager’s attention and held up a relic of the past.
“What is that?” Baldelli asked. Told it was Cruz’s rarely used outfielder’s glove, Baldelli laughed. “We’ll talk about it,” he said.
That’s where the Twins are right now with their vaunted nothing-falls-but-raindrops outfield: All three of the outfielders have fallen themselves, so even the designated hitter is volunteering for emergency duty.
But Cruz does enough good with his bat to risk his health, too. On Wednesday, the DH who turns 39 next week turned on an 0-2 slider from Emilio Pagan and slugged a line drive to the warning track in center field, driving home all three runners on base and turning a one-run deficit into a 6-4 victory over the Rays.
“He’s done this stuff for a long time, just like that. Takes a pretty good slider from a guy that’s about as tough on righties as anyone … and he hammered it,” Baldelli said. “It’s just the kind of thing he does. He’s as good as it gets.”
The Twins’ offense wasn’t as good as it gets against Charlie Morton, the Tampa Bay righthander who was unbeaten until mid-June. In fact, they were held without a home run for only the second time this month and 14th time this season. Didn’t matter, though. The Twins improved to 8-6 in those homer-free games by putting together a pair of three-run rallies, with five of the runs driven in by their All-Star starting candidates.
Eddie Rosario and C.J. Cron hit back-to-back singles in the first inning to drive home runs, and Rosario scored a third on a Charlie Morton wild pitch. And in the seventh inning, with the Twins trailing by a run thanks to home runs by Kevin Kiermaier, Tommy Pham and Willy Adames, Cruz faced Pagan, who owns a 1.23 ERA, with the bases loaded.
He fouled off a slider, then swung and missed at a second. Pagan tried the same pitch for a third time, and immediately regretted it.
“That was the best one that he threw,” Cruz said after his three-hit night. “It was more down and away than the other ones, but that one I recognized better.”
It landed just beyond Kiermaier’s reach in center, and ignited a joyous celebration among the 31,650 in the crowd.
All that was left was for the Twins’ bullpen to complete the victory, with Taylor Rogers recording the final four outs on eight pitches for his 10th save. And then tend to the wounded.
This time, that amounted to Rosario, who was on another hot streak. He collected two hits, both on two-strike counts, giving him six in two nights against the Rays. But his second one, on a line drive toward the right-field corner, ended with the Twins’ home run leader slamming his helmet to the dirt in disgust. As Rosario rounded first base, he decided to try for second, but stumbled over the bag and sprained his left ankle. He limped toward second, was thrown out easily and headed to the dugout, clearly in pain.
With the rest of the starting outfield — Byron Buxton and Max Kepler, not to mention utility man Marwin Gonzalez — already sidelined because of various injuries, the Twins were left to shuffle players around, with infielder Luis Arraez winding up in left field for the first time since rookie ball in 2015 and Willians Astudillo interrupting his first-ever start in left to move to right.
Kepler, nursing a swollen elbow after being hit by a pitch, eventually returned in the eighth inning to buttress the defense. “We’d prefer not to play him, but he tested himself out pretty well, and said he was OK,” said Baldelli, who also mentioned Miguel Sano and even starting pitcher Kyle Gibson as other potential emergency outfielders.
As for Rosario, he used crutches as a precaution, the manager said, but X-rays and a magnetic resonance imaging test showed no serious injury. “We probably lucked out,” Baldelli said, anticipating no trip to the injured list for his cleanup hitter. “We’re being tested right now, and guys are stepping up. We’re sending different guys out there to play different positions, and guys just continually go out there and do the job.”