ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – He wasn’t sure what to expect in his first big-league appearance, but facing a four-time All-Star with an important run in scoring position probably wasn’t it.
So being handed the ball with Evan Longoria at the plate in the seventh inning Thursday made the experience “memorable,” Michael Tonkin said, as though he might forget his MLB debut otherwise.
It was pretty forgettable for Longoria, though.
With Wil Myers standing on third, Tonkin fed the Rays third baseman four fastballs, each registering 93 or 94 miles per hour, to run the count to 1-2. Then he had a surprise. “I usually will give it a little bit more with two strikes, especially if I’m ahead and don’t have to worry about walking him,” Tonkin said of the 96-mph heat that Longoria could only tip into Joe Mauer’s glove for a threat-defusing strike three.
“Pretty exciting,” Tonkin said. “The kind of a situation you want to be in, I guess. You want the tough ones, so it was pretty cool.”
The Twins think so, too, and Tonkin, 23, only added to the excitement by disposing of James Loney, Yunel Escobar and Jose Lobaton with little trouble in the eighth. He mixed fastballs and sliders — the latter the pitch that got him to the big leagues just 13 months after pitching for low Class A Beloit.
Snappers pitching coach Ray Lucas, now with Cedar Rapids, “drilled it into me that I needed to throw [the slider] more, and make it better, and throw it for strikes,” he said. “I started doing that, and it made a big difference.”
He is only guaranteed two more days with the Twins, until Caleb Thielbar returns from his grandmother’s funeral, but Tonkin has been told the Twins are willing to be convinced he should stay. “It’s obviously a huge opportunity,” he said. “Regardless of what happens, it’s an opportunity and I just need to take it for what it’s worth.”
Rochester had just lost in Scranton, Pa., on Tuesday when manager Gene Glynn called the players together for a meeting. “Usually, when you have a meeting after [a loss], it’s not good,” Tonkin said. “But we talked about the game, then [Glynn] told us what happened to Thielbar. After that, he told us I was going up to replace him.”
That set off a scramble back in Glendale, Calif., where Tonkin’s parents hurried to get to Florida for their son’s debut. They will be in New York this weekend, too.
Pelfrey’s outing wasted
Mike Pelfrey couldn’t believe his luck when a bloop single, a check-swing dribbler and a broken-bat single scored a run off him in the third inning Thursday.
“I don’t think I dealt with it very well,” the righthander said. “It ticked me off. But that’s going to happen.”
What really upset him, though, was the sinker that didn’t sink on a 0-2 count in the sixth inning, a pitch that Luke Scott golfed over the right field fence to break a 1-1 tie. When Longoria followed with a blast of his own, Pelfrey took the loss despite a strong outing.
“We tied it up, and I said, ‘Here’s my chance to keep us in the game,’ ” said the righthander, who trimmed his ERA to 5.55 but fell to 4-7. “Then I go out and give up a couple of runs. I just didn’t execute it and [Scott] hit it out. That’s how you ruin a good day.”
• Justin Morneau didn’t start Thursday, following Wednesday’s 13-inning loss, and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said “he was pretty sore today.” But Morneau was on deck as the game ended, ready to pinch-hit. “I’ll say yes, he was [available],” Gardenhire said. “He was going to go up there and try.”