Sometimes Kevin Jepsen sounds perplexed, and sometimes a little distraught. Then he’ll turn determined, before becoming matter-of-factly analytical.
On Sunday, after his latest disastrous outing resulted in yet another Twins loss, it was all of the above. With even a little defiance mixed in.
Jepsen has endured one of the worst seasons of his professional career, and the fact that it comes immediately after what was probably his best season makes it all a little surreal. The 31-year-old closer has pitched in 24 games, giving up runs in 12 of them. His ERA is a team-worst 6.26. He has blown three of 10 save chances and has entered six tie games, failing to keep it tied in three of them.
And vs. the Rays, the team that shipped him to Minnesota last July? One bad pitch, he said with a shrug, doomed him from the start. With the Twins and Rays tied 5-5, Jepsen left a 3-2 fastball too high to Steven Souza Jr. leading off the ninth, and he watched it sail toward the horizon. It landed short of the bullpen wall in left-center, a sure double, but then Byron Buxton had trouble picking up the bounce, and Souza wound up on third.
And suddenly, Jepsen had no choice except to keep the ball away from the strike zone and hope he could fool hitters into swinging.
“To start the inning off like that, it’s tough. You’ve got to strike out the side … so you’ve got to go for it,” Jepsen said. “The only guy that matters is the guy on third. Obviously, it didn’t work out.”
It didn’t. Jepsen got one strikeout but couldn’t coax Curt Casali or Nick Franklin into reaching for pitches in the dirt, walking both to load the bases. Brad Miller hit a line-drive sacrifice fly to left, Evan Longoria lined a single to center, and the game was lost.
Jepsen doesn’t believe he’s too broken to fix. In fact, he doesn’t think he’s far from being the pitcher who went 10-for-11 in save situations last year.
“I know where I need to get to, stuffwise. The velocity is coming. I feel great, as far as stuff,” Jepsen said. “At the beginning of the year, fastballs were up. Now I’m able to get that fastball to stay true, down and away.”
“He’s a 95-mph fastball guy, but he needs that curve and changeup,” manager Paul Molitor said. “They haven’t been there, at least reliably. He’s been trying to find that release point. … That’s the big thing, he has to rely on the fastball more than you would like.”
Buxton stays hot
Buxton bunted for a single, tripled off the top of the right-field wall and singled to right on Sunday, the second three-hit day of his career. It increased his batting average to .435 since his return from Class AAA Rochester, with hits in all six games.
“I tried to just stay through the ball,” Buxton explained for the hot start. “I remember last year, I struggled with pulling off a little bit, so I tried to keep my head down, stay through the hit and just drive it.”
Buxton missed a home run by about 3 feet, but when the ball ricocheted over Souza’s head, he thought he might have a homer anyway.
“I thought about it,” Buxton said of the potential for an inside-the-park home run. “But when I looked up, I saw [Kurt] Suzuki was halfway between second and third, and I was rounding second. I was like, ‘Geez, I don’t know if he’s going [home] or not,’ so I slowed down. I looked at [third-base coach Gene Glynn], and he was waving him, so I kept going.”
• Kyle Gibson allowed seven hits and two runs, though only one earned, in six innings of Rochester’s 8-6 win over Louisville on Sunday, his third rehab start. Gibson, whose return from a shoulder strain was delayed by a sore back last week, threw 91 pitches, then flew back to Minneapolis. He likely will start Friday or Saturday against the Red Sox.
• Darin Mastroianni ran the bases and threw on Sunday and is ready to begin hitting again as he works his way back from a strained oblique.