NEW YORK -- All nine Yankees batters had gone to the plate and four runs were on the board before Twins rookie starter Charlie Barnes escaped the first inning on Friday night at Yankee Stadium.
The 25-year-old left-hander, the club’s No. 30 prospect per MLB Pipeline, toiled for 37 pitches until left fielder Rob Refsnyder threw out Gary Sánchez at the plate to finally put an end to the frame. Though Barnes hung in there for five innings, ultimately tossing a career-high 109 pitches, his outing had more or less been decided by that point -- as had the Twins’ fate in an eventual 10-2 loss to New York.
“I knew after the first inning we were going to have to grind through it. We were going to have to find a way,” Barnes said. “So I thought I did a decent job of coming back those last four and limiting the damage the best I could. But the damage was done pretty early.”
Though Barnes looked at certain moments as though he might settle down, his overall command issues came back to bite him throughout that opening frame. He walked the first two batters he faced, then struck out Joey Gallo on four pitches. He hit a batter and gave up a two-run single, then got Rougned Odor to pop up into foul territory behind the dish on a first-pitch swing. But he allowed two more singles and walked in another run before Refsnyder put an end to the proceedings.
By the time Barnes left the mound for good, he had surrendered seven runs on eight hits, five walks, one homer and two hit batsmen in his fourth big league start (fifth appearance).
“The biggest thing was just the free passes; I gave away too many free bases today,” he said. “…It’s just something that can’t happen, and it’s unacceptable. And [I was] just trying to battle through that and get into the strike zone and make pitches when I needed to.”
The decision to keep Barnes in the game and allow him to work through his issues wasn’t one that manager Rocco Baldelli took lightly. It was also borne of necessity, given how thin Minnesota’s bullpen was after eight pitchers were needed to complete Wednesday’s 11-inning affair in Cleveland. Barnes had been fully briefed as to what his team would need from him, and Baldelli said he “patted him on the back” for hanging in there.
“He’s a competitive young man,” Baldelli said. “When he’s out there, he just wants to do anything he can to help the team win -- and even if down, help the team any way he can. That’s just the way he’s built, and that’s his mentality. A lot of guys start thinking maybe about themselves and how the start hasn’t gone well. He just keeps pitching and just keeps competing very well, regardless of the way it played out.
“He’s a guy who has to command his pitches very well, have good feel for really all of his pitches. He knows that. That’s what he is; that’s what he has done his entire career, back to college and pro ball. And he wasn’t commanding the ball the way he normally does.”
The Twins’ offense was largely nonexistent behind Barnes, though, managing only one hit -- a Refsnyder single -- off Yankees starter Nestor Cortes Jr. through the first five innings. The lone threat they posed came in the fourth, when they loaded the bases off a walk, Refsnyder’s single and a hit-by-pitch. But Willians Astudillo, who was playing first base with Miguel Sanó on the paternity list, flied out to right field -- and flipped his bat in frustration. A two-run homer from Josh Donaldson in the sixth was all Minnesota could muster on the night.
For young arms like Barnes, who is essentially auditioning for a role in the rotation, this kind of lopsided outing could be a deflating step in the maturation process. But as for whether it might cast a shadow over the southpaw going forward, Baldelli had no such concerns.
“I’m not worried about Charlie,” Baldelli said. “He’s seen some ups and downs in his career, like everyone. He’s responded to everything that’s come his way just fine. I think the mental side of what we do is actually a strength of his, so I’m not concerned at all with him.
“I think he’ll continue to look at the start; I think he’ll go back to it like he always does, identify exactly what he thinks he needs to look at and improve going forward. He has no issue doing that. Not every guy I can say that’s one of their biggest strengths -- I think that’s probably one of his.”