MINNEAPOLIS -- It might be too late in the season for players’ trade value to substantially change, but these last two days definitely can’t have helped a pair of Twins relievers.
On Tuesday night, Hansel Robles gave up a game-tying grand slam in the ninth inning -- and minutes later, he exited the game with heat-related illness, marking the second health scare to a Twins reliever who could have been moved by Friday's Trade Deadline in as many nights. To make matters -- somehow -- even worse, the red-hot Mitch Garver took a pitch off his right wrist area in the 10th and made an immediate exit with a right wrist contusion.
Though the Twins lost in 11 innings, 6-5, after Miguel Cabrera singled in the go-ahead run in the top of the frame, the result paled in comparison to the possible other effects of a nightmarish pair of ninth innings against Detroit to open this three-game series.
“This is a very difficult night for everyone,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We gave ourselves a chance by playing well, putting some runs on the board, pitching well. And we got to the end and obviously, it didn’t work out.”
Thanks to a first-inning grand slam by Garver and 6 1/3 strong innings from Kenta Maeda, the Twins carried a 5-1 lead into the ninth on Tuesday, seeking a club-record ninth straight home win against Detroit. But after Robles allowed a single, double and walk to load the bases, Eric Haase unloaded them at the end of an eight-pitch at-bat with a big swing that found the seats down the right-field line.
Robles induced a groundout from Willi Castro in the ensuing at-bat, but Masa Abe and Baldelli went to the mound for a lengthy visit before they removed the right-hander from the game. The Twins’ skipper said after the game that Robles reported feeling dizzy and lightheaded on the mound due to the 91 degree temperature at first pitch and humidity in excess of 70 percent, but he was doing better after his body temperature cooled down.
“He got sick on the mound and just did not feel like himself at all,” Baldelli said. “That’s not something we can mess around with.”
Only 24 hours earlier, Taylor Rogers had also exited in the ninth inning of the series opener after sustaining a sprained middle finger, evidently while throwing a pitch. Rogers was placed on the 10-day injured list before Tuesday’s game, sidelining one of the most valuable trade chips on the roster as part of a market in which several contenders could have competed for the left-hander’s consistently dominant stuff and remaining season of club control.
Robles won’t fetch anywhere near the return that Rogers would have commanded, and if the illness resolves, he could still be on the move before Friday’s 3 p.m. CT cutoff considering his expiring contract and bounceback season in Minnesota. But even without the heat on Tuesday night, that rebound from a dismal 2020, too, appeared to be more tenuous following Haase’s grand slam, which raised Robles’ season ERA to 4.91.
Since Robles peaked at a 2.76 ERA following a June 20 appearance, the right-hander has posted an 11.12 ERA across his last 12 outings, including four homers and 14 earned runs allowed in 11 1/3 frames.
“He's pitched pretty well for us this year, and he's pitched in traffic before,” Baldelli said. “So just having some guys on base doesn't really mean anything with him. He's pitched out of a lot of big situations before. I wasn't concerned, but obviously, with the big hit by Haase and what followed, we had to grab him. Truthfully, did I know or see it coming? No. I don't think anyone did in the dugout."
Fortunately for the Twins, Garver’s X-rays following his exit also came back negative for structural damage after he took José Cisnero’s 95.3 mph sinker off his right hand and wrist area in the bottom of the 10th inning. He’ll remain day to day, temporarily sidelining the potent bat responsible for three homers, two doubles and seven RBIs in five games since his return from the 10-day injured list.
In another good sign, Maeda was stingy once again as he eased through six strong innings, retiring 10 in a row at one point, before he ran into a jam in the seventh. He was charged with one earned run on four hits through his 6 1/3 frames, touched only by an Akil Baddoo solo homer, lowering his July ERA to 2.15 in five starts after his season mark sat at 5.56 at the end of June.
While others’ possible trade values might have been negatively impacted by this stretch, Maeda continues to look stronger and stronger by the outing -- but much like his teammates, he’s not focused on the uncertainty the next three days could hold with regard to his future.
“I try not to think about it, because there's only so much I can do,” Maeda said. “But I try to concentrate on winning the game, putting in the prep work to contribute to the team, and that's where I'm at.”