MINNEAPOLIS -- The big bat of heralded prospect Brent Rooker finally arrived in the heart of the Twins’ lineup on Friday, and as hoped, he delivered in a big spot against a left-hander with a tie-breaking RBI single.
The box score will only show a 1-for-4 line with an RBI across Friday's doubleheader in Rooker’s first day as a Major Leaguer, but the Twins’ No. 12 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, impressed with the hard contact and strong eye at the plate that he showed throughout his short Minor League career.
“I felt comfortable at the plate all day," said Rooker, who was selected at No. 35 overall in the 2017 MLB Draft. "I was happy with the swings I took, the approach I had, I thought my timing was pretty good. Being able to get on base, however it was, whether it was HBP, or whatever, the first at-bat kind of lightens the load a little bit and takes some pressure off, eases your mind, so was able to build on that a little bit, and I was happy with all my at-bats throughout the day."
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound outfielder/first baseman got his initial trip to first base out of the way quickly, when he was hit by an errant breaking ball in his first plate appearance of Game 1. He then showed off the might in his bat with a 101.9-mph line drive in his next plate appearance that caused Tigers shortstop Willi Castro to fall over after he made the catch.
He saved plenty of hard contact for Game 2, as well.
After striking out in his first plate appearance against Tigers lefty Tyler Alexander, Rooker followed a pair of singles in the third inning with a two-out RBI knock to left field that left his bat at 112.2 mph, marking the eighth-hardest batted ball by a Twins hitter this year. (Only Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sanó, two of the game’s foremost sluggers, have hit balls harder among Twins this year.) To cap it off, Rooker’s final flyout also left the bat at a crisp 99.5 mph.
The bat played plenty well in the 25-year-old’s first day on the job, but he was also involved on defense -- a shakier element of his game -- in right field for both hits that the Tigers used to take the lead, including an ill-fated diving attempt on a Jonathan Schoop triple before Miguel Cabrera gave the Tigers a temporary advantage with an RBI single that fell in front of Rooker.
"Looking back, that's probably not a ball I should have dove for, knowing the situation," Rooker said. "I was a little overaggressive there, but I really thought I had a chance to get to it, and the opportunity to make a cool play like that was definitely on my mind."
Avila (lower back) to IL
Backup catcher Alex Avila landed on the 10-day injured list on Saturday due to the persistent lower back tightness that caused him to be scratched from Wednesday's lineup and removed from Friday's second game against the Tigers. Sean Poppen was also optioned to the alternate training site, and catcher Willians Astudillo and outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr. were recalled.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli expects Avila to return after close to the minimum 10 days.
Top prospects added to alternate site
The Twins added a pair of highly regarded pitching prospects to their player pool on Saturday, when right-handers Jordan Balazovic (No. 4 in the organization, per MLB Pipeline) and Matt Canterino (No. 11) were assigned to the alternate training site in St. Paul, Minn. Left-hander Charlie Barnes also joined the player pool. They joined other top young arms in Jhoan Duran (No. 5), Edwar Colina (No. 16) and Dakota Chalmers (No. 24).
Veteran infielder Jack Reinheimer and right-hander Ryan Garton were released. Ildemaro Vargas was claimed off waivers by the Cubs after Minnesota had designated him for assignment on Wednesday.
Twins join MLB in childhood cancer awareness
In partnership with the Pinky Swear Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Upper Midwest and Children's Minnesota, the Twins assembled a Kids Starting Lineup that featured children either currently battling cancer or are cancer survivors before their Saturday matchup against the Tigers at Target Field.
That's a topic particularly dear to the Twins, as left-hander Devin Smeltzer is a survivor of childhood pelvic rhabdomyosarcoma and has devoted his professional career to raising awareness and funds for childhood cancer awareness through his "Catch Cancer Looking" initiative in partnership with Katie's Krusaders, an organization that covers out-of-pocket expenses for pediatric cancer patients.
All Twins players, coaches and on-field personnel joined the league in wearing gold ribbon decals and wristbands during Saturday's game, and the Twins also partnered with Starlight Children's Foundation to donate 100 club-logoed Starlight Hospital gowns to Essentia Health-St. Mary's Children's Hospital, among others.
For the fifth consecutive year, MLB and its clubs raised awareness for childhood cancer during all games on Saturday for a special league-wide day in home ballparks. MLB’s “Childhood Cancer Awareness Day,” held during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in collaboration with Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), combined a visual and ceremonial demonstration of support for the cause with outreach to local hospitals treating young patients in their communities. Childhood cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among children in the United States and Canada.
Childhood cancer awareness efforts in previous seasons have included special pediatric cancer awareness batting-practice T-shirts, online campaigns to empower fans to hold fundraisers for pediatric cancer research and donations to local children’s hospitals. MLB and its clubs have supported the fight against cancer through a variety of initiatives for many years. As Stand Up To Cancer’s founding donor, Major League Baseball has pledged more than $50 million to SU2C’s collaborative cancer research programs, providing invaluable support. Launched in 2013, the work of the Stand Up To Cancer/St. Baldrick’s Foundation Pediatric Cancer Dream Team has helped to develop new immunotherapy approaches and contributed to the development of two new treatments for difficult-to-treat pediatric leukemias that have been approved by the FDA. MLB has recognized SU2C at its jewel events since the '09 World Series.