CHICAGO - Three extra notes from a dispiriting start to the series at U.S. Cellular Field:
Ricky Nolasco thought he was making the right play. In a flash, he realized he was wrong.
That kind of night.
After giving up a leadoff triple to White Sox leadoff hitter Adam Eaton in the fifth inning of a 5-4 game Friday, the Twins drew the infield in, hoping to cut off Eaton at the plate. Austin Jackson then slapped a hard roller to Joe Mauer’s right. Nolasco, certain that Eaton would try to score, tried to get out of the way.
Eaton stayed at third. And nobody was covering first base.
“I don’t think I’ve ever covered first on infield-in in my career. I was kind of ducking because everybody was thinking Eaton was going on contact, he’s so fast,” Nolasco said. “We just all got hung up in that little circle [near the pitcher’s mound]. And that was the crucial play of the inning.”
Turned out to be, yes, because Nolasco seemed to extricate himself from the jam by retiring Jose Abreu on a grounder to third, then getting Todd Frazier to hit another grounder directly at shortstop Eduardo Nunez, who easily threw out Eaton at the plate. Had the Twins retired Jackson, the inning was over.
Instead, Melky Cabrera got an opportunity to bat with two outs, and on a 3-1 slider, the left-handed hitter reached out with his bat and served the ball into left field, scoring Jackson. Moments later, Brett Lawrie singled, too, and the Twins’ one-run deficit had ballooned to three runs once more.
“It’s just the same story — we’re not catching the breaks right now,” Nolasco said. “It’ll be the last time I say it, because nobody wants to hear it, but it’s tough. We’re just trying to keep going forward, heads up high.”
The numbers say Nolasco was terrible on Friday, and has been getting worse in each of his last three starts. Actually, though, Nolasco and manager Paul Molitor believe he’s making good pitches most of the time, but has been victimized by a misplay here and a bad pitch there.
Last Sunday, for instance, Nolasco was an out away from giving up just two runs over six innings. But his “That changed how you might look at that particular outing,” Molitor said.
Same thing Friday. Two unearned runs in the first inning, two more in the fifth because of that infield-in play. “I’m sure he was trying to pick us up,” Molitor said, “but it didn’t happen. … It’s a fine line.”
Doesn’t he know it. Nolasco feels as though he’s making the same pitches that earned him a 2.66 ERA over his first three starts. But his ERA has ballooned to 4.70 now.
“It’s pretty incredible right now. I thought I made some pretty good pitches, and they caught a couple breaks,” Nolasco said. “It’s just frustrating. I felt pretty good. I thought I had a little extra, but I definitely didn’t finish up that way.”
On a day that already had plenty of transactions, it became clear the Twins must make another one. Eduardo Escobar suffered a strained left groin, and “it looks like he’s headed to the disabled list,” Molitor said.
Figure on Jorge Polanco returning on Saturday, his third trip to the majors in less than six weeks. There aren’t many other logical choices, given that the Twins don’t have any spare infielders, except for their center fielder, Danny Santana.
Polanco is 1-for-7 with the Twins this year.