Before their Saturday fell apart and the Twins’ playoff dreams were crushed, Tommy Milone did what he could to keep his club in the game.
He was the epitome of a crafty lefty. He worked the corners, changed speeds, threw offspeed pitches when hitters expected fastballs. He neutralized the Royals for six innings in his final outing of 2015.
“He was wonderful,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said after a 5-1 loss to Kansas City eliminated his team from postseason contention.
In six innings, Milone gave up one run on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts. Eric Hosmer drilled a first-inning fastball for an RBI double, but that’s all the defending American League champion Royals would get off Milone.
Brian Dozier’s RBI single in the sixth tied the score at 1-1. But Milone didn’t come out for the seventh inning, when the Royals scored four two-out runs against the Twins bullpen. Everything fell apart after Milone left.
Monday, he held Cleveland to two runs over 5⅔ innings in an emergency start after Phil Hughes got sick. Milone backed it up with Saturday’s outing. The timing of these two starts couldn’t have been better.
He blew a 5-0 lead against the Angels on Sept. 17 and was pulled from the rotation because of shoulder fatigue. Milone’s final two outings, showing he can thrive in big games, could influence the Twins as they consider options for their 2016 rotation.
“It’s pretty big,” said Milone, who finished 9-5 with a 3.92 ERA and even a save with the Twins after spending a month dominating at Class AAA Rochester. “Of course, this late in the season, meaningful games this late, I wanted to do whatever I could to come back and help the team. Cleveland, I wasn’t expected to start, but I was able to jump in there and start that first game. It meant a lot to be out there. They had interest in giving me the ball and I wanted to prove that they made the right choice.”
Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Hughes are in the middle of big contracts. Kyle Gibson is a year away from being eligible for arbitration. General Manager Terry Ryan has indicated he wants Trevor May to start again. Rookie Tyler Duffey has been a revelation, and top prospect Jose Berrios is knocking on the door.
Competition for a rotation spot will be fierce next season, but Milone, the only lefthander in the group, has showed why he can’t be counted out.
“His last couple starts when Phil went down, there’s value there, there’s no doubt about that,” Molitor said. “We have a lot of questions about how we are going to go forward.”
Nolasco gets finale
Gibson went through his day-before ritual, preparing to start Sunday’s finale despite not being on full rest.
But when the magic number turned to zero, so did Gibson’s assignment. With no playoff shot at stake, Gibson was told his season was over. Instead, Nolasco will make his eighth start, and first since May 31, when an impingement in his right ankle derailed his season.
“I’m just going to go out there and try to throw a few innings and go home healthy,” said Nolasco, who despite a 5.97 ERA is on a five-game winning streak as a starter. “I’ll have that peace of mind going into the offseason.”
Nolasco will be limited to about 50 pitches, Molitor said.
Beginning of the end
Blaine Boyer likely wrapped up a good season Saturday, but it didn’t feel like it. “Eventually I’ll get beyond it, but this is a tough one,” the righthander said. “When it comes down to one pitch — I made my pitch.”
He did, to Lorenzo Cain in the eighth inning, a two-out pitch that should have ended the inning. Cain rolled it down the first-base line, and by the time Boyer could reach it, he didn’t have time to get the ball to Joe Mauer at first for the inning-ending out. Instead, his throw hit Cain, Alcides Escobar scored, and the Royals went on to a decisive four-run inning.
“I tried a Tim Tebow jump-and-throw,” Boyer said. “It was a good pitch, he barely got it and cued it. I’m going to be dwelling on that for a while.”
Staff writer Phil Miller contributed to this report.