How dare Kyle Gibson mess things up for everyone else.
The righthander is a veteran who should understand situations and pitch accordingly. The Twins, after all, have standards. So what he did on Wednesday against the Blue Jays was utterly unacceptable.
He gave up a run. Bad, Gibson, bad.
Obviously, it’s quite the opposite. Billy McKinney’s home run to right field in the fifth inning produced Toronto’s only run of the three-game series. It actually raised the rotation’s ERA in May from 1.40 to 1.41. It also lifted its ERA ever so slightly since becoming a five-man rotation.
Since Martin Perez joined the rotation on April 15, the unit has a 3.08 ERA and is one of a few reasons why the Twins woke up on Friday with the best record in major league baseball.
“We’ve had several of our guys string together some really nice runs,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “As a whole, our pitching has been phenomenal. There have been games in which they have taken the game in their hands and won the game for us and kept us in many, many other games. If we can keep this going, we’re going to be OK.”
Can’t ask for much more
Staff ace Jose Berrios has a 2.77 ERA since April 15, which includes seven shutout innings on Tuesday against Toronto. But he’s not the only one pitching like an ace since the five-man rotation came together.
Jake Odorizzi, who’s mixing in sliders and cut fastballs more than ever, has a 1.11 ERA since April 15. Named American League Player of the Week on Monday, Odorizzi will start Friday at Target Field against the Tigers.
“Everything has played up a little bit now that I feel more correct with my mechanics,” said Odorizzi, who is 4-2 with a 2.78 ERA. “It’s helped out my offspeed stuff. My fastball’s got a little more life to it.”
Gibson has a 3.07 ERA since April 15, with 28 strikeouts and just three walks in 24 innings. That includes a career-high 11 strikeouts on Wednesday.
Michael Pineda has been the one who has struggled, posting an 8.53 ERA over the same period. He’s worked to get his slider back to an acceptable level. And he’s paid the price for moments when his control escaped him.
Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson, however, hasn’t forgotten that Pineda is in his first season following Tommy John surgery in 2017. So his process is different from the others.
“What he’s done has been almost unheard of, when you think of how well he’s commanded the ball for a guy who’s really coming out of Tommy John,” Johnson said. “We get result-oriented because the wins and the losses, and we have to. But you look at his stuff and you look as his slider and depth and the changeup, and things are trending in the right direction. If we can get that command to get all the way back, it is going to be a lot of fun.”
Then there’s Perez, who signed as a free agent during the offseason to be the fifth starter. The Twins, however, had five scheduled off days before April 12 — and their game on April 12 against Detroit was postponed.
So they hatched a plan. Perez would make three appearances out of the bullpen, piggybacking on that day’s starter. It seemed like a good idea. But then Perez was brought in to replace Pineda on March 31 when Pineda had held Cleveland to one hit over four innings. Then Jake Odorizzi had a no-hitter through four innings on April 10 at New York against the Mets when he was told Perez was coming in to replace him, only for the coaching staff to change its mind when Odorizzi’s spot in the batting order didn’t come up the previous inning. Odorizzi went back to the mound for the fifth but fell apart.
Perez joined the rotation with a 7.56 ERA, but he had been working on his new cut fastball during bullpen sessions. By then, it was ready for prime time, and he’s been hard to hit as a starter. And others have followed.
After holding the Blue Jays to one run in three games, the Twins rotation is second in the AL and sixth in baseball with a 3.50 ERA. The starters have walked just 53 batters, third fewest in MLB.
“I think the sacrifice our major league rotation made to start the season was significant,” Twins General Manager Thad Levine said. “First and foremost, Martin Perez agreed not to be in the rotation to help the team. Secondly, Michael Pineda and Jake Odorizzi both had very productive starts cut short in the name of Martin to come in and stay stretched out. I’m not sure you would find other staffs be so willing to let those things happen.
“That was a real moment for the staff that brought a bunch of guys together who didn’t have a long history together, and I think you’re seeing the capitalization on the moment right now.”
Mitch Garver said he and fellow catchers Jason Castro and Willians Astudillo needed the first few weeks to keep learning about the staff. During that time, they have seen the group link together like a chain. And no one wants to be the weak link.
“The starting pitchers are out there competing,” Garver said. “Not just against the other team but against the other starting pitchers. They want to push each other to the best, and that’s what we’ve got going tight now.”
Berrios, who pitched in the All-Star Game last season, agreed.
“That’s why I’m talking to every starter here,” he said. “I watch you guys before me, so when you guys go out there and pitch well, I’m going to do the same thing in my next outing. So I think that’s good motivation for us, and having each other’s backs.”
Since Perez joined the rotation, Twins starters for the most part have been a strike-throwing, lineup-neutralizing force.
It’s a group that gives the rest of the team confidence that most games are winnable. And it’s a group that believes it can sustain quality pitching.
“Now we’re on more of a five-day schedule, too, so the familiarity and everything is there,” Odorizzi said. “The routines are there. Everybody’s got a full month under their belt now, so it’s about winning games and giving the team the best chance to do that from a starter’s perspective.”