Blake Parker was losing battles to Tigers hitters Sunday. The bases were loaded in the ninth inning and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli needed the threat eliminated.
So he called upon Trevor Hildenberger.
“That’s where you want to be as a reliever,” Hildenberger said. “You want to be the guy that they rely on to come in tight spots and put out the fire. It’s been fun so far.”
Hildenberger struck out John Hicks and Grayson Greiner to finish off a 6-4 victory, capping the Twins’ abbreviated two-game sweep of Detroit and enabling Jose Berrios to improve to 2-1.
Hildenberger likes putting out fires — but was uncomfortable when a reporter tried to call him a fireman after the game.
“Not yet,” he said. “Small kitchen fire. Baking soda.”
However he views it, it’s about how Baldelli views Hildenberger. Similar to how Paul Molitor used him late last season, Baldelli looks ready to go to Hildenberger at key points of games. He has inherited 14 baserunners in eight appearances. No other Twins reliever has inherited more than five.
“We’ve brought him into some very difficult spots,” Baldelli said. “He’s not fazed. He seems to almost enjoy it. I enjoy calling on him, and he’s done a nice job.”
Parker still figures to get the majority of Twins save opportunities, but he wasn’t sharp Sunday. The Twins led 6-2 heading into the eighth, when Detroit scored twice off Trevor May. With the bases loaded, Taylor Rogers recorded the final two outs of the inning to keep his team ahead.
Baldelli then went to Parker, who struggled a bit with his trusty split-fingered fastball in the cold weather on Saturday, when he still struck out two and earned his third save in as many chances this season.
Sunday, JaCoby Jones reached on an infield hit to open the ninth. Parker got ahead in the count on Jeimer Candelario but walked him. Parker fell behind 3-1 to Miguel Cabrera but rebounded to strike out the veteran. But Parker walked Christin Stewart after starting 0-2 on him, bringing Baldelli out of the dugout.
Parker threw a few split-fingered pitches but couldn’t locate them.
“I’m not here to make excuses. I don’t want to make excuses,” said Parker, who earned 14 saves in 17 opportunities last year for the Angels.
“There is a little bit more of a feel to that pitch, but there were some other things going on that I needed to dig into mechanically and fix, as far as rushing out a little bit. But staying back, I feel like I made a couple of pretty good pitches. Again, they laid off of them, but taking a step in the right direction. I’m not quite in midseason form yet, but we’ll get there.”
Parker added that he has enough movement on his fastball to be effective, but his command was a little off Sunday. He also can mix in a curveball.
“That’s why you’ve got seven guys in the bullpen to pick you up,” he said.
It worked out on a day in which Berrios was shaky early, giving up a two-run homer to Gordon Beckham in the second that tied the game at 2-2. Berrios adjusted, mixing in more changeups and curveballs, and retired the next 12 Tigers hitters. He held Detroit to two runs over 6⅔ innings on four hits and a walk while striking out seven.
The Twins broke the tie with Byron Buxton’s RBI double in the second inning. C.J. Cron belted a two-run homer in the third, and Eddie Rosario added a solo homer in the seventh.
Baldelli had to pull Parker on Sunday — noting that throwing 52 pitches in two days also could have factored in his struggling — but the manager said in spring training that there could be times when different pitchers would be used in the ninth. Sunday was one of those days.
“We had some guys pick us up in the bullpen,” Baldelli said. “It was a good day. It was not the easiest or cleanest day maybe all the way around, but our guys continued to play and fought it out.”