SEATTLE — The Twins have been packing Eduardo Escobar’s catching gear from city to city for three or four years now, just in case. But when they actually needed it on Tuesday, they discovered a problem: He hadn’t tried it on.
While Chris Gimenez warmed up to pitch the eighth inning of the Twins' 12-3 loss to the Mariners, Escobar was searching for a wearable chest protector, since the straps on the one with his name on it had not been adjusted to fit him. He’s a utility infielder, after all, and the need to have Escobar play behind the plate had never arisen before. So Gimenez threw to Jason Castro while Escobar wrestled with the equipment.
“He had to borrow,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “We had to go through a couple of chest protectors to find one that didn’t make him look a little silly.”
The protector that Giminez wore through the first seven innings turned out to be closest to fitting, and Escobar finally rushed to the plate. For the first time in his baseball career — 524 major league games, 660 minor-league ones, and even 235 games in his native Venezuela — Escobar was receiving pitches.
Is he any good at it? “I don’t know,” the 28-year-old admitted. “But the important thing is, I’ll try to do my best for the team every day.”
That’s the attitude that Molitor was counting on, and the reason he chose to employ a third catcher for the first time this year. With the game out of hand at 12-3 in the eighth inning, he considered letting Escobar, who was 2-for-4 as the designated hitter, pitch an inning, as he did once last season. But Molitor has had a feeling lately that the need for an emergency catcher might arise this year, and this struck him as an opportunity to prepare. And catching a non-pitcher felt like the best way to get his bearings at the position.
"There might be a day when he has to go back there and catch someone other than Chris,” Molitor said. “It was just a situation there to give him a little experience.”
Escobar seemed to have no problems with the nine pitches Gimenez threw, though Gimenez joked that he didn’t always agree with the pitches he was calling. And he was proud to have even been asked. “I’m the third catcher on this team,” he declared. “I liked the experience. I’ve said it before, I’ll do whatever the manager asks.”
So will Gimenez, and so far this season, that’s meant taking the mound four times. That already makes him the Twins’ all-time leader in pitching appearances by a non-pitcher — he’s pitched as often this year as all non-pitchers did in the Twins’ first 28 years of existence — and also by innings pitched. John Moses was the previous leader, with three innings in three games in 1989-90.
“I went up to [pitching coach Neil Allen] after the seven-run [fourth] inning and said, ‘Let’s be smart about this. I can throw,’ “ Gimenez said. “They know by now I’m just trying to help the bullpen. We can still win this series, and by saving Duff [Tyler Duffey], [Taylor] Rogers and [Brandon] Kintzler tonight, we’re going to be OK tomorrow.”
He doesn’t want to pitch, just as Escobar doesn’t want to catch. But Molitor decided he didn’t want Jason Castro to enter such a lopsided game merely to catch a non-pitcher, so he was ready and willing.
“Obviously I don’t want be part of a game that was as [lopsided] as it was today,” Escobar said. “If it’s a game like this, it’s no fun. I want to win.”
Alex Wimmers took a Guillermo Heredia line drive flush on the back of his right calf in the fifth inning, but the righthander said afterward that he’ll be OK. That’s what he told Molitor as the time, too, and he stayed in for two more batters. “I give him credit for staying in the game,” Molitor said. “It was a direct hit, but it was all calf muscle. I’m sure it’s sore now.”
Randy Rosario, in relief of Hector Santiago, struck out Ben Gamel to end the third inning with a runner on third base. That was the encouraging part of the rookie left-hander’s night. But it was the only out he would record. Mike Zunino opened the fourth inning with a ground-ball single that fooled Miguel Sano, and Rosario hit Jarrod Dyson with a pitch. Then the top of Seattle’s order went single-double-single, and Rosario’s night was done.
“He’s a young kid who’s still trying to get settled a little bit. I was hoping the second time up he would be a little bit more composed,” Molitor said of Rosario, whose ERA after two appearances now stands at 30.86. “He got the big strikeout, but then when he went back out there, the inning got away from him. One tendency you see with a young guy is they try to throw it harder and they try to spin it a little faster, and usually it backfires.”
The ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by a 1-year-old before the game, but this was no ordinary toddler. It was Luna, the young daughter of musician John Legend and supermodel Chrissy Tiegen, and the parents helped her toss a baseball to Robinson Cano, to the delight of the Safeco Field crowd.