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Harper establishes himself as key piece of 'pen

@dohyoungpark
April 18, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- It may have taken fortuitous circumstances and a perfect Spring Training for Ryne Harper to make his first Opening Day roster this season, but after seven scoreless outings to open the season, he has begun to establish himself as an effective piece of the Twins’ bullpen. Harper’s impressive

MINNEAPOLIS -- It may have taken fortuitous circumstances and a perfect Spring Training for Ryne Harper to make his first Opening Day roster this season, but after seven scoreless outings to open the season, he has begun to establish himself as an effective piece of the Twins’ bullpen.

Harper’s impressive first month in the Major Leagues continued with the most impressive outing of his short career in Thursday afternoon’s 7-4 loss to Toronto at Target Field, as the Twins dropped three of four to the Blue Jays. He helped absorb the impact of Michael Pineda’s first bad outing of the season with 3 1/3 scoreless innings to preserve Minnesota’s bullpen depth.

“He picks the whole group up with an effort like that,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And he did it efficiently. He really only went through the order one time, but was able to cover all of those innings for us, which is exactly how you hope it plays out once you bring him in the game."

The 30-year-old Harper hadn’t been asked for more than four outs in a single appearance this season, but he struck out Freddy Galvis to escape an inherited jam in the fourth inning and cruised through the seventh inning on a career-high 43 pitches. Harper retired his first eight hitters, and though he allowed a single to Eric Sogard in the seventh, he immediately induced a double play to complete his afternoon.

The Twins have used Harper in all manner of situations so far this season. He has pitched twice in blowout games, including his Major League debut on March 31. Harper has been called upon to escape jams in close games. He pitched a scoreless seventh inning and protected a late lead on Monday.

Harper said that Minnesota’s coaching staff told him during Spring Training that he might occasionally need to provide length out of the bullpen. His lengthy outing afforded an extra day of rest for Blake Parker, Taylor Rogers and Trevor Hildenberger, with six more road games looming in Baltimore and Houston before the Twins’ next off-day.

Harper had pitched more than two innings in seven of his 38 appearances between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester last year.

[The coaches] told me coming out to camp, 'Be ready for anything,'” Harper said. “I might have a day where I go long; I might have a day where I go one out. They've communicated very well, and it's been a very comfortable feeling, just trying to get a part of this team and get the season cranked up and rolling.”

Despite the unpredictable nature of his appearances, Harper has been largely successful in his first taste of the Major Leagues. Though he has allowed five of his eight inherited runners to score, he has yet to be charged with a run in 8 1/3 innings this season, and he has allowed five hits while striking out seven and walking two.

Actually getting out there, getting in a rhythm and getting able to attack, that's all I've tried to do this whole time from the first time I threw this season,” Harper said. “You've just got to try to stay within yourself and do what I've always done and don't make it too big.”

Pineda had opened his 2019 campaign with a 3.00 ERA through three effective starts, and the big right-hander got three early runs of support from his offense on Thursday. But he allowed two homers as he struggled with his fastball location, and the Blue Jays took advantage of a pair of bloop singles to key a five-run rally in the fourth inning, capped by Sogard’s three-run double that chased Pineda from the game.

“Today, I didn’t have my best stuff,” Pineda said. “I was fighting a little bit with my location. It happens sometimes.”

Rosario swats pair of homers

Eddie Rosario homered twice in the defeat to push his team-leading total to six, marking his seventh career game with two or more homers. Rosario had opened the season in an 0-for-14 slump, but he responded with hits in six straight games and finished this homestand 8-for-21 (.333) with four homers, nine RBIs and only three strikeouts.

Rosario’s six homers are tied with Kent Hrbek and Bobby Darwin for the second most in Twins history through the team’s first 16 games of a season. Tony Oliva hit seven homers through the first 16 games of the 1966 campaign.

“Eddie always seems locked in,” Baldelli said. “Regardless of what's going on, Eddie, he's not afraid of any situation or facing a lefty or a righty or a big moment. Nothing that he really does is surprising.”

Rosario’s first homer, a solo shot in the second inning off Blue Jays starter Clay Buchholz, tied the game after Toronto had taken an early lead. His second homer came on a first-pitch slider out of the zone against left-hander Tim Mayza for his second long ball of the season against a southpaw.

“To come in facing the lefty and put a swing on that first pitch, people just don't do that because it's borderline impossible,” Baldelli said. “You just don't see things like that. But he does things that other people don't do or can't do. He's certainly a talented guy.”

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.