'La Makina' stumbles in sixth vs. Tigers

August 24th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- After serving as a model of consistency for the first four months of the season, “La Makina” has hit a jam.

Jose Berrios looks to have put the mechanical issues that limited his fastball velocity behind him, but still, after the right-hander avoided traffic for five innings on Friday night, he chose a bad time to hang a curveball to Tigers infielder Ronny Rodriguez, who clubbed a grand slam that snuck just inside the left-field foul pole to sink the Twins in a 9-6 loss at Target Field.

The right-hander entered the game mired in a difficult August during which the Twins had lost two of his three starts, and he had completed six innings only once. The offensively challenged Tigers -- in the bottom two of the American League in nearly every hitting category -- offered Berrios a prime opportunity to right the ship.

Instead, Berrios was charged with five runs in 5 1/3 innings, the third time this month he has allowed at least that many. The Tigers finished with 17 hits, their second-highest total of the season, including 10 off Berrios.

“It's definitely a point where it's a little bit of a regrouping point,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.

The 25-year-old Berrios has now allowed 20 earned runs in 21 1/3 innings this month (an 8.44 ERA), including a career-high nine earned runs in a home loss to the Braves and seven runs (three earned) one start ago against the Rangers.

“I think he's frustrated for sure,” Baldelli said. “No one blames a guy for being frustrated when he's not getting the results that he wants. José is a guy we have complete confidence in.”

It’s not that Berrios showed the same kind of struggles that he had in his past several starts. His fastball velocity was back up to an average of 93.7 mph, his highest in five starts, after he made an adjustment to how he used his lower half in his delivery. His control wasn’t wild, as he walked only two batters.

But still, Berrios only generated nine swinging strikes with his 93 pitches, compared to 23 foul balls, and when he was hit, he was hit hard.

“His raw stuff is back,” Baldelli said. “His velocity is good. His breaking ball is good, and the execution just wasn't.”

Berrios matched a career high by yielding 11 hard-hit balls (hit at 95 mph or harder), and that started early when Harold Castro squared up a first-inning double to the left-field wall and Brandon Dixon flew out to the right-center-field warning track to end the frame.

And that was largely how the right-hander’s outing went. Though Berrios only threw one clean inning, most of those hard-hit balls found gloves when needed through five scoreless frames until things unraveled in the sixth.

Castro and Miguel Cabrera began the frame with singles before Dawel Lugo poked an RBI double to right and a walk loaded the bases. Berrios attacked Rodriguez with four curveballs and got to a two-strike count when Rodriguez flailed at a pitch well out of the zone, but the fourth pitch hung over the inner half and ended up a Statcast-estimated 420 feet away in left field.

“Overall, I thought he was throwing the ball more than fine, plenty good enough to get through the lineup again,” Baldelli said. “It just kind of unraveled in that inning and happened fast, and the execution went from, I thought, good to not-so-good at that point.”

The Twins have started a 13-game stretch against the White Sox and Tigers with a 1-3 record, and getting Berrios and their rotation back on track after the starters have posted a 5.40 ERA thus far in August will be an important part of turning that around.

They saw flashes of the old Berrios at times on Friday night in the five strikeouts and some of the swings and misses taken by the Tigers' hitters. Now, it’s a matter of helping the right-hander access that more consistently to get back to the form that helped him post a 2.80 ERA through the end of July.

“We need to probably regroup a little bit and try to figure out what the next step is as far as direction,” Baldelli said. “He's going to make his next start. He feels good. But [we’re] finding out where we can get to a point or how we can get to a point where he's executing the way he can.”