Red-hot Rosario not enough as 'pen falters

August 12th, 2020

The Twins’ scuffling offense will have a little bit more wiggle room to solve its issues if is, indeed, starting one of his patented hot streaks. There still wasn’t enough wiggle room on Tuesday night, though.

After hitting a decisive grand slam in Monday’s game, Rosario crushed two more homers to account for most of Minnesota’s offense on Tuesday. But the Twins’ bats couldn’t muster much else despite knocking 10 hits, and the normally reliable relief corps was punished by the long ball in a bullpen game as Tyler Clippard, Matt Wisler, Trevor May and Taylor Rogers each coughed up homers in the Twins’ 6-4 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park.

“We're playing a lot of close, competitive ballgames,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It really ends up coming down to one swing or a guy getting a big out in a spot where there are people on base -- and really, if you don't execute all the way through, if you don't push across that extra run, if you don't do everything in those close games, you may run the risk of losing a few. We've lost some close games that we could very easily see ourselves winning.”

Minnesota’s primary lead protectors in the bullpen -- Clippard, May, Rogers, Tyler Duffey and Sergio Romo -- entered this series having allowed just one homer combined in 2020. Romo allowed a late blast on Monday -- and that was, it turned out, a sign of things to come.

Clippard allowed a leadoff blast to Avisaíl García as the opener on Tuesday, and Wisler and May were each tagged by Manny Piña, who tied the game with his two-run blast off May in the sixth for his first career multi-homer game. Rogers, the closer, entered in a tie game in the eighth and allowed a go-ahead, two-run shot to Gyorko.

“Sometimes, it’s just like guys are just going down and getting pitches that they don’t normally get or just taking advantage of momentary mistakes at the right time,” May said. “They just did that today. They did it three or four times. Sometimes, the other team just scores more runs than you because they executed a little bit better, and I think that was the case today.”

That was enough to nullify Rosario’s own multi-homer game -- the 10th of his career -- because the Twins’ offense couldn’t do much else outside of Jorge Polanco’s solo shot in the first.

Rosario eked out a solo homer in the first inning when he got a hold of an inside fastball and barely yanked it over the right-field wall, an estimated 349 feet from home plate. He followed with a much more decisive blast in the third, when he extended the Twins’ lead to 4-1 by smashing a high cutter 411 feet to right-center for a two-run blast.

"Yesterday, he hit a grand slam and we lost the game,” Piña said. “Today, he hit those two homers and it was a little frustrating to me, like, ‘Wow, I don’t know where we can pitch this guy.’ But I paid it back. I paid with the same money."

What’s more impressive, though? Rosario now leads the Twins with six homers, as his two blasts on Tuesday pushed him past Max Kepler for the team lead. The other number to look at is Rosario’s seven walks, ranking him second on the team.

That walk count has perhaps been one of the greatest surprises on the Twins so far this season. The free-swinging Rosario is notoriously walk-shy, with a career high of 35 free passes in 589 plate appearances in 2017. Apparently, not anymore.

“He's giving himself an opportunity to stay back in certain spots and to see the ball first before reacting,” Baldelli said. “Rosie is a very reactionary guy. He sees. He reacts. He plays. He sees the ball and puts a good swing on the ball, and there are spots where he may not get the pitch that he's really hoping to get. He may not get that fastball that he can kind of ambush and throw out there, and also knows that patience and that ability to actually look for other things.”

Rosario surprised many in Spring Training -- the first version -- when he said that he was working to take more walks to boost his OPS, which topped out at .836 in that 2017 season. That’s up to .853 in a limited time this season, thanks to all the homers and walks.

It’s likely much easier said than done to make these adjustments during an unprecedented season in which the Twins hope to contend, but all the metrics are there. Rosario’s swing rate is down from 59.1 percent in 2019 to 49.0 percent in ‘20, while his chase rate at pitches out of the zone is down more than 5 percentage points and his whiff rate is also down 2 percent. The results are showing.

“There aren't that many people that you can just tell something to or have a good conversation with them or give them an idea, and they take that idea and bring it out onto the field,” Baldelli said before the game. “So with Rosie, we still continue to say you definitely do not want to take away his aggressiveness. You want to let him go out there and do what comes naturally to him, but also knowing that he's not going to expand in certain situations.”