MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins’ evening quickly turned sour on Wednesday when Eddie Rosario left the game with a left ankle sprain, but their fortunes turned back around in a hurry.
First, the Twins got a go-ahead, two-out, bases-clearing double from Nelson Cruz in the seventh inning off stingy Rays reliever Emilio Pagan, and shortly thereafter, one day after suffering an elbow contusion on a hit-by-pitch, Max Kepler made his return to the field as a defensive replacement in the Twins’ 6-4 win over Tampa Bay at Target Field.
Following the game, the Twins got a third dose of welcome news when manager Rocco Baldelli said that the imaging done on Rosario’s ankle returned good results and that the left fielder could potentially avoid a stint on the injured list.
“We might have lucked out a little bit just with the early results being pretty good,” Baldelli said. “We’re being tested right now, and guys are stepping up, and we’re sending different guys out there to play different positions, and guys just continually go out there and do the job.”
The game-winning three-run rally in the seventh against Charlie Morton and a pair of Rays relievers was aided in part by the Rays’ defense, as Jason Castro’s leadoff single snuck under second baseman Brandon Lowe’s glove and Jake Cave reached on a dropped potential double-play grounder and mishandled throw. Luis Arraez slashed a single to left before Cruz cleared the bases with a double to left-center on an 0-2 pitch.
“With our offense, you kind of just wait for that to happen down there,” said Taylor Rogers, who recorded a four-out save. “Honestly, we were all kind of feeling like something would happen at some point, so Cruz happened to be the guy today.”
“We do pretty good fighting every at-bat,” Cruz added. “We walk, we battle, we make the pitcher make a lot of pitches. So definitely, we’re confident, because we’ve been doing that a lot.”
Kepler’s return in the top of the eighth was another welcome sight for the Twins, and particularly so in the wake of Rosario’s injury. Though Kepler’s right elbow had been noticeably swollen before the game, Baldelli said that Kepler was OK to both play defense and swing when he entered the game to play center field and received a warm ovation from the Target Field crowd of 31,650.
The Twins’ outfield depth had already been perilously thin entering Wednesday’s game, and they suffered another costly loss when Rosario pulled up limping between first and second base as he attempted to stretch a single into a double in the third inning.
Rosario, one of the nine outfield finalists in the Starters Election for the 2019 All-Star Game, singled to right for his second hit of the game, but he appeared to stumble as he rounded first base and threw his helmet to the ground in frustration before he was removed from the game by manager Rocco Baldelli and head athletic trainer Tony Leo. He was later diagnosed with a left ankle sprain.
“It seems like not an overly severe ankle sprain at that, so again, we’ve said this here before, but it seems like we probably lucked out,” Baldelli said.
The 27-year-old Rosario had entered the game hitting .278/.307/.526 with a team-leading 20 homers in 74 games, and he was 2-for-2 with a pair of singles against Morton on Wednesday.
The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Rosario and the Twins, considering his candidacy for a possible first career selection to the All-Star Game and the plethora of injuries afflicting Minnesota’s outfield at the moment.
Byron Buxton has been sidelined since June 15 with a right wrist contusion after he was hit by a pitch, while Marwin Gonzalez (right hamstring strain) and Ehire Adrianza (abdominal issues) are also sidelined, which forced infielder Arraez into action in the outfield alongside Jake Cave and Willians Astudillo.
But in Rosario’s place, the 22-year-old Arraez continued to take advantage of his opportunities with the Twins. He showcased his value on both sides of the ball, finding himself in the middle of both of Minnesota’s three-run rallies on offense as he went 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs, and he took over for the injured Rosario in left field.
“He’s been in the middle of pretty much everything since he’s been here,” Baldelli said. “Even his first time around when he was with us, I don’t know how you can enjoy watching a guy play more than we enjoy watching him play. He does everything the right way. The at-bats are incredible.”
Arraez, who started the game at third base, had only made 10 career appearances in the outfield across six Minor League seasons.
“It’s tough here and tough to get fly balls judged correctly when you’re not used to fielding them, so we’ll make adjustments, but as long as we can be on top at the end of the game, we can throw [starter Kyle Gibson] out there for all I care,” said starter Jake Odorizzi.
“Hopefully, we’ll have some better options than that,” he added.
Polanco’s on-base streak ends
Jorge Polanco went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, flyout and two popouts on Wednesday night, ending his career-long on-base streak at 37 games. It had been the longest on-base streak in the Majors this season and was the fifth-longest in Twins history, behind streaks from Joe Mauer (43), Bob Allison (42), Harmon Killebrew (40) and Paul Molitor (38).