In his postgame comments Thursday after another dramatic Twins victory, manager Paul Molitor had a telling quote when talking about his bullpen. He was asked specifically about the role of rookie Trevor Hildenberger and how the manager likes to use him. Molitor said, “I kind of look for the biggest spot in the game. He’s just been that valuable and reliable.”
It’s clear the Hildenberger, who arrived in late June and was mostly used early on in low-leverage situations, has vaulted past several other relief options the Twins have when it comes to earning Molitor’s trust.
Hildenberger, with his funky arm angles and devastating changeup, has repaid that faith. In 19 outings since the start of August, after the Twins traded arguably their most reliable reliever (Brandon Kintzler), Hildenberger has a 1.77 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .211 off him in that span, and he’s delivered 21 strikeouts against just two walks.
As I came to make a list of which Twins relievers I trust the most at this moment — and in what order — it became clear that I agreed with Molitor. Hildenberger might not be the closer in a traditional sense, but he’s being used to get the most important outs in a lot of games.
Beyond Hildenberger, who do you trust?
I asked that question on Twitter, and the consensus seemed to be Matt Belisle, Taylor Rogers and Alan Busenitz — not always in that exact order, but often in that order — are the ones to trust. It’s notable that Busenitz, like Hildenberger, is a rookie mid-year call-up. Belisle was a low-leverage free agent signee this past offseason who had a bloated ERA just a few months ago. Rogers is a second-year guy.
I’d generally agree those four, with Hildenberger at the top, are the go-to guys right now. If I absolutely needed one out, regardless of whether a righty or lefty was at the plate, and Hildenberger was unavailable or had already pitched? I’m not entirely sure who I would want on the mound.
Beyond those four, Tyler Duffey had a bigger role earlier in the year. He’s had some rough outings lately, but his FIP (which tries to measure a pitcher’s contribution independent of how his defense plays) is the second-best on the Twins behind just Hildenberger. He’s still useful, but he’s prone to blow-up innings. I trust him more than Molitor seems to trust him.
Ryan Pressly has a 2.29 ERA since the start of August, but he’s still several solid outings away from being someone a fan would routinely trust again. Same goes for Glen Perkins, the former All-Star closer who is still finding his way after coming back from his serious labrum injury.
What I do know is it’s pretty fascinating that if the Twins make it to the postseason and play the one-game Wild Card matchup at Yankee Stadium, the biggest moment of the game could be reserved for a nearly 27-year-old rookie pitcher whose best pitch is a cross-fire changeup.