Trevor Hildenberger had almost three dozen friends and family members in the stands at Oakland Coliseum last weekend, all waiting for him to pitch. When he finally did, in the ninth inning of a tie game Sunday, he nearly gave them a memory that would last for a long time.
“They came for three days, saw me throw five pitches, and give up a walk-off tater,” Hildenberger said with a laugh. He can smile about it now, because it didn’t actually happen. Matt Joyce’s blast to left field just missed carrying over the wall, and instead bounced off the top for a leadoff double. And what came next is something that has given Paul Molitor something to think about in these last couple of Brandon Kintzler-less months of the season: Hildenberger struck out five of the next seven batters and kept the score tied.
“He’s pitched well. He’s getting opportunities that seem like more of the game-on-the-line situations,” said Molitor, the Twins manager who must navigate his way through the late innings without his closer, who was traded to Washington one day after Hildenberger’s big moment. “Especially with the way we are right now, he’s one of those guys I’d like to get in there and see how he responds in those situations.”
It would represent a change for the sidearmer, who until Sunday had appeared in 11 big-league games, all but one of them either when the Twins led by five runs or were trailing. Hildenberger has 52 minor league saves since being drafted in the 22nd round in 2014, so he knows late-inning pressure and believes he can handle it. One of the people who convinced him of it? Kintzler.
“I actually had a talk with Kintzler in spring training this year. I got in a game and it sped up on me a little bit. I got away from my mechanics, I wasn’t holding runners. I needed to get one out, and I think it took me four, five hitters,” Hildenberger said. “Kintzler came in the next inning, pitched, and then he sat me down and talked to me about slowing the game down. You have to center yourself and realize they’re the same hitters as anywhere. If you execute your pitches, you can get them out. That’s a talk I’ll never forget and am really thankful for. I learned a lot of things from him, but that was a huge one.”
He’d like to help out in Molitor’s protect-a-lead rotation, and believes Sunday’s outing gives him the confidence to do so. “It ended up being an outing I can take positives out of. I feel like I made big pitches in big situations, RBI situations,” Hildenberger said. “I’m just concentrating on stringing together some good outings, putting up zeroes and helping the team win. If that includes big situations late in games, I’m ready for it.”
Perkins on mound
Glen Perkins needed only 15 pitches to dispose of three Jupiter Hammerhead hitters on Thursday, recording a strikeout and two flyouts for Class A Fort Myers. The three-time All-Star closer, recovering from shoulder surgery more than a year ago, will return to the Twin Cities this weekend to host Fifteen’s 5K, his charity race, and then probably join Class AA Chattanooga to resume his rehab assignment.
“We’ll try to bump up the competition a little bit,” Molitor said. “Everybody is glad that it’s advancing, stuff-wise.” Perkins’ fastball has topped out at 90 miles per hour, Molitor said.
• Kyle Gibson will rejoin the Twins on Saturday and start that night’s game against the Rangers, Molitor said. Gibson, who lost his spot in the rotation to Jaime Garcia nearly two weeks ago, reclaims it now that Garcia has been traded. Gibson pitched five shutout innings at Indianapolis on July 27.
• Phil Hughes still plans to meet with another specialist, but “they’re contemplating a surgery in the short term,” Molitor said, to address the symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome that still afflict him. “It’s not 100 percent that that’s going to happen, but that’s where it’s trending.”