ST. LOUIS -- Following their sale at Friday’s Trade Deadline, the Twins will use these final two months of the season to evaluate their young pitching options to see who could complement their existing core of hitters next season and beyond. The last two days have shown that there’s plenty of potential in the group that remains.
A day after rookie Griffin Jax held the Cardinals to two hits over five frames, fellow first-year right-hander Bailey Ober turned in an equally impressive outing, allowing one run through four stingy frames. Meanwhile, the offense got busy with a five-run third inning as the Twins cruised to an 8-1 win over St. Louis at Busch Stadium on Saturday night.
“You can see him maturing in some ways before your eyes,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Bailey knows what he’s trying to do when he comes to the ballpark. He’s trying to learn something every day. He’s trying to pick up little nuggets. He’s trying to watch people who do it the right way and he’s been taking advantage of those things very, very well.”
Following an up-and-down start to his big league career as he acclimated to the Major Leagues, Ober has settled down over his last three starts, allowing six earned runs in 14 1/3 innings, good for a 3.77 ERA. The 26-year-old relied heavily on his fastball as he struck out the side in the second inning and finished with six strikeouts and one walk in his 64-pitch appearance, with the only Cardinals run coming on a trio of fourth-inning singles.
“It’s been sinking where I want it to stay a little more straight, so I’ve been working between starts to get a little bit more of my carry back,” Ober said. “I feel like I had that a little bit more today and my last couple of outings, so I tried to take advantage of that.”
Meanwhile, the Twins’ controllable hitting core remained productive as Jorge Polanco tallied two more hits for his fourth consecutive multihit game, while Miguel Sanó reached base multiple times for the fifth straight game, continuing a stretch in which he has reached safely via hit or walk 14 times in his last 24 plate appearances. Rookie catcher Ryan Jeffers dealt the knockout blow in the third, when he crushed his third homer in his last two games, boosting his RBI total to nine in that span.
And to cap an already impressive day, the 6-foot-9 Ober also made history in the batter’s box by knocking a single to right field in his first career plate appearance (and his first since high school), becoming the tallest hitter in franchise history with a base hit -- using one of Nelson Cruz’s bats.
“About a week ago, they came up to the starting pitchers and were like, ‘All right, guys, you’ve got to start taking some swings, get ready for Interleague play,’” Ober said. “The other guys have their names on their bats. So they brought like five or six bats to me, and of course I’m going to pick the one that’s Nelson Cruz.”
Considering Ober was a career .500 hitter when he was due up with two on in the top of the fifth, Baldelli joked that “hitters like that don’t grow on trees” -- though he pinch-hit for the right-hander with Ober at only 64 pitches, anyway.
It marked the third straight appearance in which Ober has been lifted at fewer than 70 pitches, and the fifth such outing among his 11 career starts. That’s all part of the plan, considering Ober lost the entire 2020 season to the COVID-19 pandemic and only threw a career-high 78 2/3 innings in ‘19 due to a variety of injuries that included right elbow inflammation and right ulnar nerve subluxation.
In fact, Baldelli said that the Twins hadn’t yet decided if there will be a point this season at which they’ll shut Ober down, which he described as an “ongoing discussion” to make sure Ober will be healthy and ready to contribute beyond this season.
The big right-hander certainly understands that -- and he’s making the most of every pitch he gets.
“It’s something that they’ve been in constant communication with me about, so it’s not super surprising when that happens,” Ober said. “Obviously, I want to keep going, I want to go every single inning and try to beat these guys late in games. But it makes sense, especially with my history and not playing last year.”