Ryne Harper is getting a chance to prove he’s a major leaguer, and he’s not wasting it.
The righthander was summoned from the bullpen Thursday when starter Michael Pineda was knocked out of the game in the fourth inning. Harper got the final out of that inning, then pitched three more scoreless innings to run his scoreless streak to 8⅓ innings to begin his major league career.
The 30-year-old rookie is also only the fifth Twins reliever since 2017 to pitch at least three innings and give up no more than one hit.
“That’s a huge pickup,” manager Rocco Baldelli said after the 7-4 loss to Toronto. “He picks up the whole staff. He picks the whole group up with an effort like that. And he did it efficiently.
“He got through, he really only went through the order one time but was able to cover all of those innings for us, which is exactly how you hope it plays out once you bring him in the game.”
Harper made the team out of spring training after giving up no earned runs over 11 innings spanning 10 Grapefruit League games, striking out 14 with seven hits and no walks. He now has backed that up with seven regular-season appearances without a blemish.
Harper’s fastball touches the low 90s but averages 88.6 miles per hour. What makes him effective is a breaking ball he can throw at three different speeds, sometimes slowing it to less than 70 mph.
Thursday he gave up one hit while striking out two. It kept Baldelli from using another reliever until the eighth inning, so the bullpen is in good shape heading into its weekend series in Baltimore. Tyler Duffey followed Harper and gave up a home run to Teoscar Hernandez, and Trevor May pitched a scoreless ninth, while Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers and Blake Parker were saved for another day.
“The more you pitch, the more you learn and the more comfortable you’re going to get,” Harper said. “I’ve spun it my whole career, I’ve changed speeds my whole career, and now being here, getting out there and getting a few more outings under my belt, I’m not worried about all this being my first couple of outings.
“Actually getting out there, getting in a rhythm and getting able to attack, that’s all I’ve tried to do this whole time from the first time I threw this season. You’ve just got to try to stay within yourself and do what I’ve always done and don’t make it too big.”
Smeltzer hit by line drive
Lefthander Devin Smeltzer, off to a strong start at Class AA Pensacola, was struck near the back of his head Wednesday night by a line drive and had to leave the game.
Smeltzer was facing Biloxi’s Max McDowell when McDowell hit a line drive back up the middle. The ball hit Smeltzer in head/neck area, sending him to the ground. Training staffs from both teams tended to Smeltzer, who was down for several moments before getting up and walking off the field.
The Twins received good news Thursday. “Smeltzer has checked out fine,” farm director Jeremy Zoll said. “Good to go.”
Smeltzer, who came the Twins last July from the Dodgers as part of the deal for second baseman Brian Dozier, threw 14 scoreless innings over his first two starts while striking out 17. He gave up one earned run over four innings Wednesday.
• Willians Astudillo made his third start behind the plate Thursday, with all three coming on days Pineda pitched. Astudillo was 2-for-4 at the plate, breaking a hitless streak of 15 at-bats that was the longest of his career.
• With a steal of second base in the second inning, Byron Buxton increased his club-record successful stolen base streak to 33 in a row. Buxton, with four steals, is the only Twins player with a stolen base this year.
• The Twins held a moment of silence before the game for righthanded reliever Greg Booker, who died Saturday after a battle with melanoma. Booker, 58, pitched in six games for the Twins in 1989 after being traded from San Diego for Fred Toliver. The Padres GM at the time, Jack McKeon, was Booker’s father-in-law.