There were two outs in the first inning Sunday when Twins pitching coach Garvin Alston went to the mound wondering if Jose Berrios needed to be pulled.
Berrios’ pitches looked about as good as he felt — and he was very sick Sunday.
“We talked before the game, saw him warm up. Talked a little bit more, explained what was going on,” Alston said. “Then he goes out there and he was hoping that it would be just a click more than what it was, especially seeing the radar, seeing the movement on his pitches. It’s like, ‘He’s really not going to make it.’ ”
Alston, now with manager Paul Molitor and trainer Tony Leo on the mound, received assurances from Berrios that he could continue.
The 24-year-old righthander fought his control and ran out of gas in the middle innings, and the Twins lost 6-2 to Oakland, which took three of four games in the series at Target Field. Berrios did what he could with what he had, leaving the game down 3-1 after five innings. The Athletics then went to work on the Twins bullpen, hitting three home runs over a span of 24 pitches from Matt Magill.
Tyler Austin hit solo home runs in the fourth and sixth innings, but that was the Twins offense Sunday. The Twins were outscored 23-11 in the series.
The illness was the last thing Berrios needed. This start marked the fourth in a row in which he failed to pitch more than five innings. In five innings Sunday, he gave up three runs on eight hits while striking out four. He is 3-7 with a 4.94 ERA in day games, an issue he identified earlier this month. The bigger issue might be the wall he is currently hitting, as he is 0-1 with a 5.60 ERA over his past four starts.
Berrios was unavailable to the media after the game, therefore unable to articulate his feelings on a season in which he started out strongly and pitched in the All-Star Game but is now down to a handful of starts to end 2018 on a positive note.
“It’s a thing for me just watching it, that he’s just spinning his tires right now and it’s like he’s almost about to catch traction, then the little sickness pops up,” Alston said. “He’ll bounce back and hopefully things will work out just fine.”
Berrios’ fastball ranged from 88-92 miles per hour Sunday, and he struggled with his control. His average fastball was 93.2 mph entering the game, and he often hits 95 or higher when he is going good.
He managed to hold the A’s to one run over the first four innings, a Matt Chapman home run in the first. And he did hit 94 on the gun once, when he blew a 1-2 fastball past major league home run leader Khris Davis with one on in the third.
“It was hard not to notice, the 88s that were going up there,” Molitor said.
After Berrios left, Stephen Piscotty, Chapman and Jed Lowrie each hit a solo shot off Magill. The Twins bullpen has given up 73 home runs, tied for the most in baseball.
A less-experienced version of Berrios might have pitched himself into more harrowing situations without his top-shelf stuff. While he is challenged to finish the season strongly, it didn’t go unnoticed that he was willing to take the ball despite being not at his best.
“That breeds something within a clubhouse,” Alston said. “I’m not 100 percent but I’m going to go out and battle with you guys. Even though we didn’t win today, I hope it permeates throughout the clubhouse. Give whatever you’ve got.”