Graterol foiled in high-leverage spot vs. Tribe

Twins turn to prospect with two runners on base in 11th inning

September 7th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- Brusdar Graterol's first pressure-filled appearance in a Minnesota uniform didn't go as smoothly as the Twins would have hoped.

With several of the Twins' high-leverage bullpen options unavailable after the club's recent series against the Red Sox, manager Rocco Baldelli instead put the 21-year-old Graterol on the mound with a runner on base in the 11th inning of a tie game at Target Field. The young flamethrower didn't retire any of the four batters he faced and was charged with three runs in Minnesota's 6-2 loss in 11 innings to Cleveland on Friday night.

"Overall, I felt good," Graterol said. "I didn't feel like, at times, those few batters I faced, that I was controlling my pitches. But overall, I felt good."

Graterol entered with two outs and runners on the corners in a 2-2 game in the 11th inning and issued an intentional walk before allowing an RBI single to Roberto Perez on a sharp grounder against a shifted infield.

Graterol then grazed pinch-hitter Mike Freeman with a pitch and gave up an RBI infield single to Francisco Lindor off the glove of Miguel Sano before the Twins called in Trevor Hildenberger.

"He went out and got a couple of balls that were hit on the ground, and they found some space," Baldelli said. "That's going to happen. That's the kind of pitcher that he is. He misses bats. He's got great stuff. But he also gets a number of ground balls, probably more than most pitchers do."

The right-handed Graterol, ranked No. 3 among prospects in the Twins' organization by MLB Pipeline, topped out at 99.3 mph with his fastball and threw five of his 10 pitches for strikes.

"In reality, I wasn't trying to do anything different," Graterol said. "I just went out there trying to execute my pitches and I felt really comfortable. Maybe too comfortable for the situation. Maybe that's what happened."

The Twins had already used Trevor May, Sergio Romo and Zack Littell in this game, first to hold a one-run lead and later to preserve a tie after Cleveland pushed a run across against Romo in the eighth inning. Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers were both unavailable on Friday.

Once the game went beyond the ninth, the Twins ended up testing out some of their lesser-experienced rookies, including Cody Stashak and Lewis Thorpe, who took the loss.

So, Friday offered an opportunity for the Twins to test Graterol, their top pitching prospect, as part of a more meaningful in-game situation to continue to evaluate if and how he might fit in a postseason bullpen. He already had thrown two scoreless innings in low-leverage situations since joining the club as a September callup.

The Twins have some leeway to do so, after all. They hold a 5 1/2-game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central after Friday night's loss, with only five head-to-head matchups remaining. And because Graterol was a relative unknown to most of the Major League coaching staff, the Twins will need to find opportunities to test the young right-hander throughout September.

“When those high-leverage situations do come up, we know who usually pitches in a lot of those situations," Baldelli said. "Tonight, the game went long and we'd used a lot of our guys. ... We have to turn to a lot of other guys. We'll continue to do that when we have to."

For his part, Graterol seemed unfazed by the disappointing home debut and expressed a calm confidence in his ability to continue to attack hitters. That shouldn't come as a surprise, given that Graterol said when he first arrived to the Major Leagues that he thrived under the pressure and expectations placed upon him as the organization's top pitching prospect.

"I just trust my ability to go out there and execute my pitches," he said. "Having command of all my pitches and remembering who I am and what I can do with the stuff I have."

Baldelli, too, saw that poise in his young hurler following the game.

"He's a pretty level-headed young man," Baldelli said. "Talking to him in the dugout afterwards, he seemed pretty ready to go. Told him he's going to be back out there soon."