Bullpen seals sweep ahead of crucial Cleveland trip

September 16th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Dylan Bundy was pulled from Thursday’s game after four innings, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli didn’t hesitate to go to his high-leverage relievers right away in a close game.

A parade of five arms each pitched an inning, with only two hits allowed the final five frames of Minnesota's 3-2 victory over Kansas City at Target Field. It marked the Twins' 500th regular-season win in the ballpark.

Minnesota did what it needed to do in a sweep of Kansas City and now heads to Cleveland for five games in four days against the American League Central-leading Guardians.

“We have to do whatever we can in every game from here on out,” Baldelli said of using many of his top bullpen arms. “Everyone is going to be, if they’re available, they might find themselves in these ballgames and pitching. We’ve talked about maybe being a little more aggressive in some of these guys in certain ways; bringing guys into the game, maybe even making some moves on the position player side. I think we’re going to see that from here on out. I think it’s what we need and it’s what we’re going to do.”

Baldelli didn’t take any chances securing the win against the Royals, and the Twins will open the series Friday four games behind the Guardians, who lost to the White Sox on Thursday. Minnesota is one game behind second-place Chicago.

Bundy started Thursday and allowed two runs on four hits in his four innings. Trevor Megill, Griffin Jax, Caleb Thielbar and Michael Fulmer each threw a no-hit inning in relief.

Jhoan Duran allowed two hits in the ninth, but also logged two strikeouts on the way to his seventh save.

Up next is the pivotal series with the Guardians.

“That's the season right there,” Duran said through interpreter Elvis Martinez. “Just looking forward to it.”

The Twins had lost nine of 11 games before sweeping the Royals this week. But it hasn’t been difficult for them to stay engaged, knowing the games left on the schedule.

The five-game set with Cleveland will end the season series with the Guardians. The Twins also have six games left against the White Sox.

“We’ve got Cleveland, they’re winning the division, and we’ve got to take most of, if not all of, those games to cover some ground,” Bundy said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us and I think we’re all looking forward to it.”

With the wins against Kansas City, Minnesota at least kept itself in contention over the final three weeks.

“Whether it’s easy or not to sweep a team -- which it’s not -- we needed to do it to put ourselves in a position where this series coming up matters,” Baldelli said. “What we realize now is everyone of these series matter a lot. You’re probably not going to get much bigger or more important than the series that’s coming up. But I was very pleased with the way our guys came out here focused, played and took care of business these last three days.”

Baldelli said right-hander Bailey Ober will be activated from the 60-day injured list to start Friday against the Guardians. Ober has been out since June 3 with a right groin strain. The manager also said his bullpen is in good shape, despite Thursday’s heavy use, as strong starts by Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray in the first two games of the series against Kansas City gave the bullpen a rest.

“Everybody was fresh,” Fulmer said. “I think that was one of the very few times I’ve had three days off this season, so everything felt good and everybody felt good. That’s what you can ask for. Offense, we got an early lead and Rocco handled the ball over to us and we just did our job. That’s what we can do.”

Minnesota will need to do more of this in Cleveland. The Twins were swept by the Guardians last weekend at home.

“I think our guys know what is at stake and our guys know what time of the year it is, and all of those things,” Baldelli said. “This is what we do all this work for, to go in here and to show up against a team that’s actually leading our division right now, and have a chance to do some damage against them and go play some good baseball. That’s what we’re looking forward to.

“If you’re not looking forward to this, there’s not a lot you’re really going to be looking forward to in this game. So, our guys are ready to go and get on the plane.”