X-factor rookie Graterol settling in with Twins

Flamethrower sets club mark with 101.9 mph pitch on Saturday

September 15th, 2019

CLEVELAND -- Let's get the formalities out of the way first.

Brusdar Graterol officially became the hardest-throwing Twins hurler in the pitch tracking era (since 2008) on Saturday night, when he unleashed a 101.2 mph offering on a called third strike to Yasiel Puig, immediately followed by a 101.9 mph sinker to Greg Allen that will stand as the new record -- for now.

In doing so, Graterol joined Juan Morillo as the only pitchers to break the triple-digit barrier while wearing a Minnesota uniform. Morillo owned the old velocity record of 101.0 mph, which he attained on April 27, 2009, in the final outing of a brief, three-game cameo with the Twins.

"That's great to know," Graterol said through an interpreter, when told of his record. "Every time I come into the game, it doesn't matter the situation. I'm going to give 100 percent and throw everything I've got."

But let's take a step back. Graterol eventually claiming that record was, frankly, a foregone conclusion from the moment he stepped into the Twins' clubhouse at Comerica Park after he received his first callup to the Major Leagues earlier this month.

Instead, the bigger story on Sunday was that Graterol, the Twins' top-ranked pitching prospect per MLB Pipeline, got another chance in a high-leverage opportunity and turned in his most dominant appearance yet as a Major Leaguer. The 21-year-old right-hander turned in two perfect innings against the toughest stretch of the Cleveland lineup as he earned his first career win in the Twins' 9-5, come-from-behind victory over the Indians.

"He's thrown the ball like that multiple times," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He has ability that very few people have. The pure velocity in and of itself is pretty unique. When it comes out of his hand, everybody in the ballpark notices that it looks and appears different than everybody else. He's a young guy and is going to have a lot of time to figure things out."

It wasn't just the velocity that drew eyes to Graterol on Saturday night. After recording only two swinging strikes over the first four games of his career, he generated six whiffs on Saturday, including three with his slider and three with his sinker that -- get this -- averaged 99.8 mph during the game.

Graterol struck out three Indians hitters -- Mike Freeman, Oscar Mercado and Puig -- and coaxed three groundouts as he recorded six outs in 25 pitches. He threw 17 of those offerings for strikes. He looked every bit the dominant reliever that the Twins hoped might emerge after he was fast-tracked to the Majors this summer.

And suffice it to say that this pressure test worked out much better for Graterol than his first experience in a close game, when he didn't record an out and was charged with three earned runs against the Indians on Sept. 6.

Graterol sure looks like he could be settling in -- both on the mound, to his new role in the bullpen and in the clubhouse.

"When I first got called up a week or so ago, I was very shy, and this is all new to me," Graterol said. "Just getting acclimated and getting to know the guys, and now it feels like a family. They all took me in, and as I keep going out there, I keep trusting my abilities to get outs and help the team win games."

Added Baldelli: "I think he's comfortable. I think he's taken to the role very well. We've all seen it. Some guys adapt quickly to different roles, and some guys, it takes a little while to figure it out and to gain some comfort. I don't think it took very long for him to figure it out and feel good in that role."

Keep this up, and Graterol could be an X-factor in a postseason bullpen that suddenly looks like it could have some potential vacancies to fill after 's suspension and 's most recent setback in his continued battle with arm issues since his trade to Minnesota.

"Who wouldn't like that?" Graterol said. "It would be a great opportunity, but I'm just focusing and keep working hard and helping the team to get as far as possible."

Cruz dealing with neck stiffness

was not in Sunday's lineup against the Indians -- along with a laundry list of Twins regulars -- after being removed from Saturday's game with neck stiffness. Baldelli did not have a specific update regarding Cruz's condition before Sunday's game.

"He's going to be probably dealing with that for a little bit," Baldelli said.