When you’ve played or managed thousands of nine-inning games in your career, your bearings can be thrown off by a rule change. So Rocco Baldelli discovered on Saturday.
“You realize that you end up in spots in the middle of the games — in the third or fourth inning — where you’re making a lot of important moves, and kind of figuring out where the second half of the game is going to go,” the Twins manager said. “We played a couple of games like that today, a really good taste of it, and it’s real.”
The Twins have played 9,448 regular-season games since moving to Minnesota in 1961, but Saturday’s were the first to be scheduled for fewer than nine innings. That’s because of MLB’s coronavirus rules allowing doubleheaders to last only seven innings, in order to shorten players’ days at the ballpark, and preserve pitching arms that had only three weeks to prepare for the season.
Baldelli said he likes the change, even if a sweep would have convinced him even more.
“It does help Major League Baseball, big-picturewise, function better, keeping players healthier,” Baldelli said. “There are definitely some benefits to playing the seven-inning games, although it’s very different. It’s just one more thing we’re going to have to get used to.”
Buxton power surge
The first five-homer week of Byron Buxton’s career had a common thread, hitting coach Rudy Hernandez said: the outfielder’s ability to adjust to breaking pitches.
Buxton, like most young players, mostly preferred fastballs early in his career, but his home run spree last week illustrated that pitchers can’t count on breaking balls to fool him anymore, Hernandez said.
“Byron’s got really quick hands. If you’ve got really quick hands, you can generate long distance,” Hernandez said. “His hands are so quick, he can adjust to any pitch.”
Buxton’s five home runs came on three sliders, a sinker and a cutter; only one of them, a 91.7-mph cutter from Pirates righthander Cody Ponce on Aug. 8, exceeded 90 mph.
“He was learning how to do things, learning how to adjust to pitches,” Hernandez said. “But I’ve always said, as soon as he clicks, nobody is going to stop him.”
Selling selling selling
In the past several years, advertising has found its way onto just about everything in MLB: on the outfield walls, caps and uniforms, on the tarps covering the field, on the pitcher’s mound dirt. And this season, with teams starved for revenue in empty stadiums, another frontier was opened: on the field itself.
Saturday’s doubleheader was played with the logo of a sports apparel company painted alongside the coaches boxes in foul territory, the first time that a commercial advertisement has been painted on the Target Field turf. MLB gave permission for all teams to do so this season, Twins President Dave St. Peter said, and most have. The league hasn’t informed clubs, St. Peter said, whether this is a one-year exception or a new policy.
One that got away
Jose Berrios on his mound conference with pitching coach Wes Johnson, one pitch before surrendering a three-run homer to Whit Merrifield: “He said, ‘Why don’t we throw a changeup in that situation?’ OK, so we were all on the same page. But I threw it really, like, right in the middle. … I hung the pitch middle-in, so that’s my fault.”