Jose Berrios needed a big pitch in the sixth inning as he attempted to get out of a bases-loaded jam with a 3-1 lead. He was ahead in the count 1-2 thanks to a curveball that broke down and away from Detroit’s Ronny Rodriguez as he swung and missed.
Berrios went to the curveball again, a pitch he employed more on Friday than in recent starts. Catcher Jason Castro set up for another curve to break down and away from Rodriguez.
But this time, Berrios threw the ball up and on the inner half of the plate.
And 420 feet later, the Twins were headed for a bad loss.
Rodriguez hit his first career grand slam, lifting Detroit to a lead it never relinquished. The Tigers, a team on pace to lose 112 games, took down the Twins 9-6. And Berrios’ month of torment continued; he’s 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA in four August starts.
“His raw stuff is back,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “His velocity is good. His breaking ball is good and the execution just wasn’t there.”
Is it really torment? Berrios left Target Field before the clubhouse opened to reporters. That itself indicates that he’s frustrated with recent results, and the timing couldn’t be worse, with the Twins’ lead in the AL Central down to 2½ games after Cleveland beat Kansas City on Friday. The Twins have lost three of their past four games.
“Naturally you’re a little frustrated,” said Jake Cave, who, along with Miguel Sano, hit a pair of home runs. “We know we have a really good team. We know that a couple losses don’t really mean anything. One day at a time. You know, the old cliché. You can’t really do anything else about it. We lost this game, but we have another one tomorrow.”
In 5⅓ innings on Friday, Berrios gave up five runs, 10 hits and two walks with five strikeouts. His 20 earned runs in August are the highest of any month this season. The six home runs and 10 walks tie for the most of any month this season.
In recent starts, Berrios had increased the number of two-seamed fastballs, also called sinkers, in an attempt to give hitters something with more movement. On Friday, Berrios backed off the two-seamer. The curveball was used the most of any pitch — 31 times.
But pitch placement is different than pitch usage. If it’s around the center of the plate it will get smoked.
The Twins gave him a 3-0 lead behind an RBI double by Nelson Cruz in the first, a home run by Sano in the second and Cave’s homer in the fifth. Berrios was working on a shutout but was laboring some. Detroit hitters had fouled off a whopping 23 pitches. Also, six batted balls by the Tigers had an exit velocity of at least 100 miles per hour.
Harold Castro and Miguel Cabrera led off the sixth with singles. Dawel Lugo doubled in a run to make it 3-1. Berrios walked Travis Demeritte with one out, loading the bases for Rodriguez. Berrios threw nothing but curveballs to Rodriguez, with the last one going for a ride. Sergio Romo and Ryne Harper each gave up two runs in the late innings as the Tigers held on.
“I think he’s frustrated for sure,” Baldelli said. “No one blames a guy for being frustrated when he’s not getting the results that he wants. Jose is a guy we have complete confidence in. He’s a guy that we trust that he’s going to be looking for what is next and how to get back to where he’s been for a long period of time.
“But it’s definitely a point where it’s a little bit of a regrouping point.”