MINNEAPOLIS -- Michael Pineda put any lingering doubts about his health to rest with a vintage Big Mike outing, in which he showcased his steadfast consistency one last time ahead of Friday's Trade Deadline with six innings of two-run ball.
Unfortunately for the Twins, any clear-cut developments pertaining to Deadline decisions stopped there.
Pineda’s stingy outing in what might have been his final Twins start had Minnesota primed for a series-opening win against the Tigers until the game -- and possibly the complexion of the Trade Deadline -- turned in the ninth inning, when Taylor Rogers exited with a left middle finger sprain before Alex Colomé served up a game-tying, pinch-hit home run to Robbie Grossman.
Still, the Twins bounced back to win, 6-5, on a Max Kepler walk-off single in the 10th inning to score pinch-runner Kenta Maeda, who was making his fourth career pinch-running appearance as manager Rocco Baldelli’s conscious choice as the best runner remaining on the bench after the Twins forfeited the designated hitter.
But still, the biggest concern revolves around Rogers, who misfired well outside on his fifth pitch to leadoff hitter Jeimer Candelario and gestured to his pitching hand. He was removed following a quick examination by manager Rocco Baldelli and athletic trainer Masa Abe and will undergo imaging, though Baldelli said Rogers appeared fine in the clubhouse after the game.
“We're going to get him looked at, just to make sure he's doing OK,” Baldelli said. “We were chatting with him just a little while ago in the line after the win. He seemed very calm and composed and seemed fine -- did not appear to be in pain in any way, but he was feeling some discomfort.”
Rogers was in line to be one of the Twins’ most valuable assets at the upcoming Deadline on a thin reliever market considering his 3.15 career ERA over six seasons and his sparkling underlying numbers, which include 173 strikeouts and 23 walks in 129 1/3 innings spanning the last three seasons -- and that’s not to mention the fact that he’s a left-handed reliever with a year of club control remaining beyond this season.
Considering how thin this trade market also is for starting pitchers, the Twins have every reason to find a trade partner for the services of Pineda, an impending free agent, before the July 30 Trade Deadline. MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi noted Monday morning that the Yankees, Red Sox, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Astros and Phillies were all among contending clubs active in seeking starting pitchers.
Not that the thought had crossed Pineda’s mind at all.
"Why is it my last start?” Pineda quipped. “I don't think this is my last start here. I'm not thinking about that. I can tell you honestly, I want to go up there and enjoy the game and help my team to win it. That's what I did and I'm so happy today. The Trade Deadline, I'm not even thinking about that. I'm a Minnesota Twin, and I know I want to stay here."
Though it was likely too late for Pineda to significantly move the needle on his trade value, he certainly couldn’t have hurt it with his stingy outing on Monday night, when he struck out four of the first five hitters he faced and retired 11 in a row from the third to sixth innings. A Jonathan Schoop single and Miguel Cabrera two-run blast in the sixth inning marked Pineda’s only blemish in the run column.
There wasn’t much fanfare as he slowly trudged off the field following that sixth inning. He might have directed his gaze up into the crowd for a second, but, as always, he strode down the dugout stairs in a workmanlike fashion and took his seat on the bench.
If that was, indeed, the final time he’d walk off that field as a Twin, there weren’t any bells and whistles to mark the occasion -- no big, standing ovation -- and, in a way, that was rather fitting for the big right-hander, who never blew up the radar gun or racked up eye-popping strikeout totals but has always served as the model of consistency in parts of three seasons in Minnesota.
Even if it’s not flashy, consistency goes a long way for teams hoping to secure playoff spots and play deep into October. Before his May 26 injury on a comebacker off his pitching arm, Pineda had allowed four or fewer earned runs in 32 of his 33 previous starts. He fell short of completing five innings in only three of those appearances.
“Mike has been probably an underappreciated security blanket for us,” Baldelli said. “He gives us so much confidence when he goes out there and pitches. He’s not about fanfare. He’s a guy that is very thoughtful, but he does his job so well. He’s not looking for anything. He’s just a great team member.”
All that could certainly play well for a playoff club -- not that Pineda has any desire to leave the club that took a chance on him in 2018 by signing him during his recovery from Tommy John surgery and stood by him through a suspension that cost him the ‘19 postseason and much of the ‘20 season, even giving him a new contract in that time.
“I love the organization,” Pineda said. “They did a lot of good things for me. I feel like this is my house, and I want to stay here. Everybody respects me, and I respect everybody. We have really good communication with everybody. I feel really good here.”