KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Hector Santiago didn’t know why Paul Molitor pulled him after only 58 pitches. Molitor didn’t know why Santiago wasn’t throwing his fastball as hard as he usually does. Santiago didn’t realize that Molitor had shifted his outfield far to the left when Eric Hosmer batted. Molitor didn’t understand why Santiago threw Hosmer a slow curve with right field vacant.
If much of Sunday’s finale of a 11-game road trip seemed unclear to the participants, this much was self-evident: It didn’t work out well for the Twins, who reached the halfway point of the season with a 6-2 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
Santiago, 4-1 with a 2.76 ERA in mid-May, absorbed his seventh consecutive defeat as the Twins concluded a 5-6 trip, a disappointment considering it started with a three-game sweep at Cleveland. And it was how Santiago lost that bothered Molitor: without throwing a pitch even 90 miles per hour, after reaching 94 in his previous start at Boston on Tuesday.
“Yeah, [his velocity] was down today, for whatever reason, whether he chose to have more command or whatever,” Molitor said. “It was obvious to everybody it was down.”
To Santiago, it was part of a strategy: Throw first-pitch strikes, which he did to 10 of 16 hitters, and “let them get themselves out,” he said. “… I definitely felt like I had more, [could have] reached back. But that didn’t work out too well in Boston, leading to walks.”
Only one of the first eight hitters reached base Sunday, and though he walked Alex Gordon and gave up an RBI double to Whit Merrifield in the third inning, once Hosmer lifted a routine-looking fly to right, he figured the inning was over.
Then he turned around.
“I didn’t know they were that far over, for sure. I tried … to get some soft contact, so I went a little bit slow on the curveball, and when it went up, I thought, ‘fly ball to right,’ ” Santiago said. “And I look back, and nobody’s there. All of a sudden, they get a double out of it.”
Merrifield scored as right fielder Robbie Grossman raced over to recover the ball. Salvador Perez then dumped a broken-bat single to center to make it 3-0.
“I’ve never been a fan of the shift, especially when you get beat on it,” Santiago said. “Obviously there are some times where it works out. But I like the old-school way, straight up. … [Grossman] was almost in center.”
That’s probably not a popular sentiment in the manager’s office, where Molitor has devoted much energy trying to deploy defenders more wisely. Shifting outfielders “doesn’t bother me as much as some people,” he said dryly. “We don’t hear much about it when we’re in the right place. It looks bad when it looks like it’s straightaway and there’s nobody there. We’re playing odds to get outs.”
And it might have worked, Molitor said, if not for the pitch selection, a curve. “If [Hosmer] was going to pull a pitch over in that direction,” Molitor said, “that was probably going to be it.”
Molitor shocked Santiago by removing him only two batters into the fourth inning, after a walk and a fly ball. Molitor was blunt about the reason: He thought he had pitchers who would give the Twins a better chance to win.
It didn’t work. Phil Hughes gave up two runs in relief, and the Twins offense amounted to eight scattered hits, all singles. That left the Twins to go home in a sour mood and for Molitor to ponder Santiago’s future.
“We’re going to have to figure out the best way to go forward,” he said of Santiago, whose ERA is 9.96 since May 14. “We’ve got a lot of evaluating to do this week.”