CLEVELAND – Lefthander Pedro Hernandez left Class AAA Rochester and drove through the night to arrive at Progressive Field on Sunday morning to make an emergency start for the Twins.
He lasted five innings, walking six batters along the way, but it was enough for the Twins to craft a 5-3 victory and avoid getting swept in the three-game series.
What’s next for Hernandez?
“I’m going to Indianapolis,” said Hernandez, referring to Rochester’s opponent the next time he pitches.
Hernandez is back on the road. Righthander Kyle Gibson, meanwhile, boarded a plane to Miami after throwing a bullpen session.
Gibson, perhaps the Twins’ top pitching prospect, has been called up and will make his long-awaited debut Saturday against the Royals at Target Field.
Hernandez satisfied their short-term needs. The Twins sought a starter when Mike Pelfrey landed on the disabled list Sunday because of a back strain. The long-term goal is for Gibson to become a rock in the Twins’ rotation, and that era will start Saturday.
Gibson was 7-5 with a 3.01 ERA in 92⅔ innings for the Red Wings. Over his past four starts, he went 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA. This is his first full season back following Tommy John surgery in 2011, and the Twins were eager to see him before he reaches his innings limit, believed to be around 130 to 140 innings.
“He’s done a good job down there,” Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said. “Basically, we were just looking for an opening and an opportunity when it presented itself.”
Gibson had earned a call-up with strong recent outings, but Antony said the club was pleased with how the rotation has performed. It was going to take someone to really hit the skids or get injured before they would summon their 2009 first-round pick.
The opportunity came Saturday when Pelfrey strained his back while running in the outfield and remained in discomfort the next day. The Twins, meanwhile, needed a quick fix because Gibson pitched Thursday and was unavailable Sunday. They tried to fly Hernandez up from Louisville, where Rochester was playing, to Cleveland just to be around in case he was needed. There were no flight available, but Hernandez’s wife, Jackie, was on the trip and had a rental car.
So they packed up, including 11-month-old Bianca Glennis, and drove through the night, arriving at Cleveland around 3:20 a.m. At 12:05 p.m. Hernandez was on the mound at Progressive Field, facing Indians leadoff hitter Michael Bourn.
“This was crazy,” Hernandez said, “but this is part of the job, and I love my job.”
Josh Willingham’s RBI single scored Joe Mauer to give the Twins a 1-0 lead in the first. Hernandez, however, walked the bases loaded in the second and gave up a run. He walked two more batters in the third and gave up a second run. He avoided disaster, however, and was rewarded when Oswaldo Arcia and Trevor Plouffe came through with RBI singles in the fifth to give the Twins a 3-2 lead.
The bottom of the fifth was Hernandez’s easiest frame, a smooth 1-2-3 inning. The Twins bullpen took over from there, giving up only a Drew Stubbs home runs in the seventh. Hernandez (3-1) gave up two runs on three hits and six walks. Willingham and Arcia added RBI singles in the seventh and ninth innings, respectively, as the Twins avoided getting swept.
“We didn’t know how it was going to turn out the first few innings when he walked the bases loaded,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We were just hoping he would give us some innings more than anything else. He got through five pretty good. Gave us the lead, held the lead, and we went from there.”
Hernandez packed up after the game and prepared to head back to the minors, Sunday’s game in the past. The Twins, meanwhile, were ready to welcome Gibson, the future.