MILWAUKEE — A trio of extras from a second straight sloppy loss to Milwaukee:
Paul Molitor has been encouraged by the progress Michael Tonkin has shown since making the team during the final week of training camp, and he noted after Tonkin’s first career victory on Sunday that he’s trying to build up the confidence of the 26-year-old righthanded reliever.
That’s why, with the game tied 1-1 in the fifth inning and starter Tommy Milone’s pitch count passing 100, he chose Tonkin to handle a precarious situation. The Brewers had the bases loaded with their two most dangerous hitters, Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy, coming to the plate.
“We talked at the start of the inning about who we might try to get out of the inning” if Milone faltered, the manager said. “I thought it was a . … I thought it was a little early to try to get someone else in there. And he has been throwing the ball well in a couple of outings as of late.”
It didn’t work out the way he had hoped. Tonkin threw eight pitches to Braun, all of them fastballs, before finally walking him to force in a run.
“He was amped up, you could see it. He was trying to throw as hard as he possibly can,” Molitor said of Tonkin’s pitches, the fastest of which reached 96 mph. “He never threw a slider. It was 1-0 then 2-1, and he had to throw a couple fastballs 3-2 and just couldn’t get them by [Braun]. And finally, he misfired.”
Then came Lucroy, who fouled off a 2-2 fastball, then got another one, high and over the plate. Lucroy lasered the pitch to the left-field wall, scoring two more runs.
“It was a bigger spot for him, but that’s a stage of the game where we need a guy like Michael to come in,” Molitor said. “It’s an opportunity for him to try to help us out, but it just didn’t happen for him tonight.”
Tommy Milone was having little trouble with the Brewers for awhile, retiring eight straight hitters at one point. But there were signs all was not well: Nine of the 20 batters he faced worked the count to three balls.
“I feel like I was maybe nibbling a bit too much,” Milone said. “I saw the pitch count getting up there early. That’s not ideal. You’re trying to get the out early, within the first four pitches.”
The high pitch count meant that, when he walked Domingo Santana and Jonathan Villar in the fifth inning, his night was abruptly over, finished after just 4 2/3 innings with the bases loaded. He was removed for Tonkin, who allowed all three runners to score.
“I started getting the ball up a little bit, tried to be a little too fine, a little too perfect,” Milone said. “Just kind of got away from me.”
Milone helped his own cause with a pair of hits, the first of which led to a run. With two outs in the second inning, Kurt Suzuki lashed a double to left field, and he moved to third base when Milone beat out a ground ball to the hole at shortstop, his first hit since 2013.
Then Milone added another single in the fifth, though he was erased when Brian Dozier hit into a double play. He became the first Twins pitcher since Mike Pelfrey last May 20 in Pittsburgh to collect two hits, and the seventh since 2000.
Too bad he didn’t get another at-bat. No Twins pitcher has recorded a three-hit game since Jim Perry in 1972.