Yohan Pino didn’t look overwhelmed in his major league debut Thursday night, but he was anxious before it.
Pino’s 10-season wait to reach the majors was nearly over, but heavy rains that socked the Twin Cities forced his debut to be delayed 2 hours, 6 minutes. The righthander had to wait a little longer.
“For 10 years,” Pino said, “I just wanted to go out and throw that first pitch.”
That first pitch was a strike, thrown at 9:16 p.m. A lot of his other pitches were strikes too. And Pino kept the Twins in the game long enough for them to come up with two runs in the eighth inning, leading to a 4-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox at Target Field that ended their five-game losing streak.
“I’m just happy,” said Pino, who at age 30 became the oldest Twins player to make a major league debut.
Danny Santana led off the eighth with a single off White Sox reliever Rob Petricka and went to third on Brian Dozier’s single to right. Petricka, a Faribault High School product, got ahead of Joe Mauer 0-2, but he worked the count full before slapping a pitch down the left-field line to drive in Santana. Dozier later scored on Kurt Suzuki’s sacrifice fly.
Pino didn’t get a decision, being pulled after 94 pitches for Casey Fien (4-4), who earned the victory a day after taking the loss at Boston. Glen Perkins earned the save, pitching around a one-out single in the ninth inning to retire Adam Dunn and Alexei Ramirez.
But Pino was the story, holding Chicago to two runs over seven innings on five hits, one walk and seven strikeouts.
“That was wonderful to watch,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Pino. “He changed speeds just as advertised. His fastball looks a lot harder when he’s using the fastball, the slider and the changeup.”
Having pitched 10 seasons in the minors, Pino has developed a feel for reading hitters that he can use in the majors. At least that’s what Twins assistant GM Ron Antony implied before the game. Pino was 9-1 with a 1.92 ERA in 14 games, seven starts, at Class AAA Rochester this year, forcing the Red Wings to remove Scott Diamond from the rotation to make room for him.
“He pitches like a veteran, and he is a veteran,” Antony said. “Just not major league.”
Pino has some Phil Hughes in him in that he loves to get ahead early in the count and pound the strike zone. He failed to throw a first-pitch strike only four times during the first five innings. He kept hitters guessing starting off mashers Jose Abreu and Adam Dunn with his big breaking ball in the second inning.
The Twins took a 1-0 lead in the second when Josh Willingham pounded a high fastball from Chicago starter Jose Quintana down the left field line for a long home run. But Chicago got to Pino in the third when they loaded the bases before Conor Gillaspie lined a two-run single to center. Pino got a big second out on the single when Dozier took Sam Fuld’s throw and tagged out Gordon Beckham, who had gone too far past the bag.
Mauer tied the score in the third with an RBI single to left, only his second RBI this month. Mauer went 2-for-4 with two RBI, his first multi-RBI game since May 3.
Were the runs off Pino in the third signs of trouble? Nope. Pino retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced, stranding Alejandro De Aza in the fifth following his leadoff single. There were a few deep fly balls hit off him, but a pitcher can get away with that at Target Field.
“His presence on the mound was like he’s been up here actually doing this,” said Suzuki, the Twins catcher. “Just to see his face after, he was just so happy. That’s the kind of stuff you like to see.”
Pino was asked if he ever worried that he would never realize his major league dreams.
“At times I found it difficult,” he said, “but I had to just keep working and. by God, I was able to do it.”