"[I want to show] that I'm healthy, that I can throw strikes and get big league hitters out again,” Hildenberger said. “Not only is everyone here trying to audition for the postseason roster, but audition for a job next year. So there's a lot of pitchers here and not an infinite amount of innings to go around. Whenever I do get the opportunity, I hope I can capitalize."
Hildenberger made 36 relief appearances this year between Minnesota and the Minor Leagues. But his season was interrupted for more than two months because of a right elbow strain. He was activated from the injured list Aug. 20, and threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings for Triple-A Rochester to conclude the Minor League season.
Hildenberger attributes the improved results to a mechanical adjustment that gave him better command, a sharper slider, enhanced fastball movement and more dive to his changeup.
"A lot of it had to do with my back leg,” he said. “I think earlier in the year, my arm slot was a little bit high. And I thought, mentally, I've got to lean over more to get my arm slot down, which was actually making me worse because I was falling forward, towards third base. And in order to not fall over, my body would come up early, so I would fly open. So the more I stayed back on my back leg and really drove towards the plate and stayed linear, I was able to get my arm slot lower.”
Hildenberger is 2-2 with a 8.36 ERA in 14 Major League innings in his third season with the Twins. He last pitched in the Majors on May 15 against the Angels. He rejoins the Twins as they maneuver bullpen combinations in the final month of the regular season with an eye on the playoffs.
“I think we’re going to wait and see how each game unfolds. It’s hard to say,” manager Rocco Baldelli said of utilizing Hildenberger. “We have a lot … a full bullpen. There are a lot of guys down there, and they’re ready to go, they’re ready to pitch. I don’t know. It’s actually a play-it-by-ear kind of situation, not just for Hildy but for pretty much everybody down there.”
Like Hildenberger, both Harper and Romero have pitched for the Twins this season. Harper previously threw 49 1/3 innings over 56 games with a 3.65 ERA. Romero has a 7.88 ERA in eight innings over eight games.
Buxton gets green light to play aggressively
As Byron Buxton works his way back from missing a month because of a left shoulder subluxation, the center fielder has been given the go-ahead to make sliding and diving plays.
“He’s going to go out there and be the one that has to decide how he’s going to slide and how he’s going to dive and make all those plays,” Baldelli said. “But I think we’re certainly a better defensive unit when Buck’s out there in the field.”
Buxton returned from the IL on Sept. 1. He has not taken an at-bat, instead being utilized for defensive and baserunning purposes.
“He got through those innings comfortably, and everything is perfectly fine,” Baldelli said. “The tests become when he gets challenged and he goes out there and is sliding and diving around and banging into things. We’ll know probably a little bit more once those things happen. When he went out on his rehab assignment, he didn’t play in the field. So it’s been a while since he’s gone out there and done some things. He shags. He’s getting his work in. But playing in the game, the fact that you don’t know what’s going to happen in the game, is also another small barrier that we’ll probably get around when it pops up, when it happens.”