ST. LOUIS – Fernando Romero may not be much of a hitter. But he’s a pretty good streak stopper, and that’s a lot more important to the Twins.
Romero, who in his major-league debut last week halted the Twins’ three-game skid, on Monday stopped an even longer streak: The Cardinals’ five-game run of winning. The rookie pitched six innings against the red-hot home team, struck out nine and never allowed a run, delivering Minnesota’s fourth straight victory, 6-0 at Busch Stadium.
“He walked the leadoff hitter of the game [Matt Carpenter], and you kind of wonder, especially after you had put some runs up,” Molitor noted. “But he settled in. He kept his focus, used all his pitches, all the things you’d want to see. Seemed like he had really good velocity most of the night, and really good movement.”
Romero’s ERA remains at 0.00 as a major-leaguer, and this time, he didn’t even allow a runner to reach third base. He was far from perfect, allowing a Cardinal to reach base in all six innings, three via walk and one who was hit by a pitch. Three times, in fact, the leadoff hitters reached base. Yet Romero, whose fastball routinely registered 97 mph, never once allowed a runner to advance a base unless it came via sacrifice bunt. He constantly limited any danger he was in by whiffing critical hitters — five of them looking at strike three.
“I tell myself, just control yourself, control your energy, your emotions, and you’ll be a success,” Romero said.
By the time he was told he was done, Romero had extended his scoreless streak to 11 2/3 innings — the second-longest string of zeroes to open a career in Twins history. Only lefthander Andrew Albers, who racked up 17 2/3 scoreless innings in his first two starts in 2013, ever began a career with less turbulence.
“We like a lot of things he can offer — how he has presence on the mound. You could see when there was a walk or a base hit, [he would] take a deep breath,” Molitor said. After a walk in the fifth inning, “I sent Bobby [Wilson, the catcher] out there one time just to calm him down. and he got back to making pitches. You’ve got to be pleased to play as clean a game as we did.”
It wouldn’t have been that clean, and it wouldn’t have been the Twins’ first-ever shutout of the Cardinals in their 30 all-time meetings (including the 1987 World Series), if not for Eddie Rosario, though. After Carpenter’s leadoff walk, outfielder Dexter Fowler, who ended the Cardinals’ 14-inning walk-off victory over the Cubs late Sunday night with a home run that cleared the fence by inches, did it again, knocking a Romero pitch just over the wall in front of the Twins’ bullpen in left.
But Rosario tracked the ball, put his glove over the fence, and came down with the ball, to the cheers of his teammates on the other side.
“It was a really good play. [He’s] not playing at normal depth with a left-handed hitter up, but he got back very well, tracked it well, and he timed it perfectly,” Molitor said. “That’s a huge play that changes the momentum.”
As new as he is to pitching in the big leagues, Romero is an even bigger novice at wielding a bat, having never come to the plate at any level of professional baseball. But the 23-year-old attacked the challenge with gusto, swinging at seven of the 11 pitches he saw from Cardinals starter John Gant and reliever Matt Bowman. He managed to foul four of them off, but never quite put a ball in play, walking away with three strikeouts.
“Swing at a couple balls, foul them,” Romero said with a smile. “First time hitting [in] big-boy league, we’ll take that.”
Romero’s spot in the batting order was just about the only one that wasn’t productive, making his task on the mound that much easier. The Twins, who have scored at least four runs in all seven games in May, handed the rookie a lead before he even took the mound. Joe Mauer walked to lead off the game, moved up on Gant’s wild pitch, and scored on a double by Max Kepler. Two batters later, Eddie Rosario, who is batting over .450 since the calendar turned to May, doubled off the right field wall, scoring Kepler.
The Twins strung together a couple of singles and a sacrifice fly by catcher Bobby Wilson in the fourth inning to produce another run, and then knocked Gant from the game in the sixth on a run-scoring double by Robbie Grossman. The outfielder had been hitless in 15 at-bats in May until collecting three hits on Monday, and he was in the middle of the Twins’ two-run add-on in the eighth inning, too.
Rosario led off the eighth with his second double of the night — he’s had an extra-base hit in all five games of this road trip, a total of seven overall — and scored on Grossman’s single. When Wilson followed with a double down the left-field line, Grossman scored, too.