Twins manager Paul Molitor winced at the thought of Jose Berrios needing to be a stopper on Tuesday.
“The guy just turned 23, and we hope he can round out a rotation and give us an opportunity to win,” Molitor said. “I’m not going to put ‘stopper’ along with Jose’s name at this juncture.”
But the Twins needed to be picked up after bullpen meltdowns the past two games. Berrios dazzled in his first three outings; why couldn’t he do it a fourth time?
It was too much to ask for, as the Twins fell 7-2 to Houston for their third consecutive defeat. Berrios had his worst outing by far since arriving from Class AAA Rochester, needing 104 pitches to get through five innings.
“It’s tough with a lineup like that,” Berrios said, “but I never lose my confidence with my pitches. I try to compete, one bad night. Get ready for the next one.”
The warning signs popped up in the third inning as Berrios began to hand back a 2-0 lead. Berrios hit Marwin Gonzalez with a pitch, gave up a double down the left field line to Yuli Gurriel, then a sacrifice fly to Alex Bregman.
Houston then loaded the bases against Berrios in the fourth, getting a run home when Brian McCann hit into a double play. The score was tied 2-2. Berrios did limit the damage to one run, but he entered the fifth inning having thrown 71 pitches.
Berrios fell behind the first four batters he faced in the fifth, as the Astros loaded the bases, again, with one out. Berrios could not find the magic pitch this time. Actually, third baseman Ehire Adrianza needed a magic glove, as Jose Altuve ripped a two-run single by him to give Houston a 4-2 lead. Altuve was given a hit, but Adrianza could have made the play.
“We had a chance to get off the field even instead of down there,” Molitor said.
In five innings, Berrios gave up four runs on five hits and four walks with five strikeouts. After throwing 65.9 percent of his pitches for strikes over his first three outings, he threw strikes only 60.6 percent of the time Tuesday.
First-pitch strikes really told the tale: Berrios got ahead in the count with only 11 of the 23 batters he faced, or 48 percent.
But Molitor has seen Berrios pitch worse, much worse, during his baptism season last year. And he reminded him of that.
“I told him I was proud of him,” Molitor said. “A lot of times, when he hasn’t had his command in the past, it’s kind of been explosive. And I thought he contained pretty well tonight.”
The Twins offense was unable to bail out Berrios despite facing Houston righthander Mike Fiers, who entered the game having given up a league-high 18 home runs. The Twins scored twice in the first, on a bases-loaded walk to Eddie Rosario and a Byron Buxton infield single, but then Fiers took control, retiring the next eight batters and lasting six innings.
Altuve led the Astros by going 4-for-5 with two RBI. Bregman added a solo homer in the seventh, and Houston tacked on two more runs in the ninth.
“They don’t have a lot of power but they hit with men on base,” Berrios said. “I walked a couple guys, that’s my damage.”