In 10 days, Michael Pineda will reach the two-year anniversary of his career-altering elbow surgery. The Twins probably can go ahead and start celebrating now.
The righthander has quietly gained strength all season and made the team’s $10 million gamble on his recovery look like a jackpot, never more than Saturday. Pineda was brilliant, giving up one run over six innings and pitching the Twins to their second consecutive victory over Texas, this time 7-4 at Target Field.
Marwin Gonzalez made it 10 Twins with 10 or more homers by the All-Star break with an eighth-inning blast, the bottom three hitters in the lineup combined to drive in six runs, and Taylor Rogers retired the final seven batters to earn an extra-long 12th save. But the tone was set by Pineda, who gave the Rangers nothing — 0-for-5 — when they put runners in scoring position.
“Big Mike did a really nice job. He attacked with his fastball very well again today,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “For innings and innings at a time, he’s doing what wants to do. … He threw the ball exceptionally well, from beginning to end.”
Those innings and innings of effectiveness are beginning to add up. Pineda has pitched six times since the start of June, and the numbers are what the Twins envisioned when they signed him after his Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery two winters ago: Pineda has posted a 3.21 ERA over his past 33⅔ innings, and that’s inflated by a five-run hiccup in Kansas City two starts ago.
Perhaps this is the most precise sign that Pineda is back: He struck out nine hitters, the most he has had since April 2017 — pre-surgery.
“I’m 100 percent. I’m pitching good games, so I’m 100 percent right now,” said Pineda, who improved to 6-4 with his eighth quality start, second most on the team behind Jose Berrios. “This team wanted to sign me and give me an opportunity, and I’m very happy for that. I recovered last year, this year I’m playing, and I just want to help my team every five days when I get to the mound.”
Rogers wouldn’t mind pitching more often than that, but he used his extended rest period to his advantage Saturday. When Tyler Duffey gave up three runs and retired only two hitters in the seventh inning to make it a one-run game, Baldelli immediately went to his best relief pitcher. And he never took him out.
“We thought this could have been a good day for him to go multiple innings,” Baldelli said, since Rogers had thrown only 19 pitches in the previous eight days. “It was a good, efficient effort by him to go that length, and not throw many pitches while also getting the results that he got.”
Those results? Seven batters up, seven batters down, five of them by strikeout.
“Rocco said, ‘It’s your game if you want it,’ and I said, ‘Yeah,’ Rogers said. “I didn’t think too much about” the extra-long save. Three-inning saves in blowouts aside, it was the longest a Twins reliever had ever pitched in a true save situation since Bob Wells recorded eight outs in a 9-7 victory over Kansas City on April 20, 2000.
“It was going to take a special effort from him to get it done, and he was able to do it,” Baldelli said. “It was nice.”
So was the standard Twins offensive outburst, this time conducted by the bottom of the order. Byron Buxton knocked home a pair of runs in the second inning with a two-out single. Jonathan Schoop hit a groundout that scored Miguel Sano, who had tripled. And Jason Castro came to the plate three times with runners in scoring position, and delivered all three times: with a sacrifice fly, a single and a double, good for three RBI.
Gonzalez entered the game in the sixth inning when LaMonte Wade Jr. dislocated his right thumb while trying to catch Pineda’s lone mistake — a home run by Elvis Andrus that barely sneaked over the bullpen fence.
Gonzalez reached double digits in home runs with an eighth-inning blast off Texas reliever Shawn Kelley. That’s 10 Twins with 10 or more homers, just one short of the franchise record, and Buxton has nine.