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Hildenberger saves the day as offense surges

@dohyoungpark
April 14, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- Trevor Hildenberger doesn’t want to call himself the “fireman” of the Twins’ bullpen just yet. "Not yet,” Hildenberger said. “Small kitchen fire. Baking soda." That small kitchen fire threatened to rage out of control in the ninth inning of the Twins’ 6-4 victory over the Tigers on Sunday

MINNEAPOLIS -- Trevor Hildenberger doesn’t want to call himself the “fireman” of the Twins’ bullpen just yet.

"Not yet,” Hildenberger said. “Small kitchen fire. Baking soda."

That small kitchen fire threatened to rage out of control in the ninth inning of the Twins’ 6-4 victory over the Tigers on Sunday when Blake Parker loaded the bases with one out, but Hildenberger entered and collected his first save of the season by striking out John Hicks and Grayson Greiner (both swinging), stranding all three inherited runners and closing out the victory.

The efforts of both Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers, who escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the eighth inning, ensured that the Twins didn’t squander an early lead earned by their productive offense and its 14 hits.

“We had some guys pick us up in the bullpen,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It was a good day. It was not the easiest or cleanest day maybe all the way around, but our guys continued to play and fought it out.”

In Sunday’s ninth inning, Hildenberger quickly warmed up when Parker ran into trouble with an infield single and two walks. Hildenberger used his slider to strike out Hicks on three pitches before raising his arm angle from his traditional sidearm slot to sling a 93 mph fastball up in the zone to Greiner to finish the game.

“The last pitch was over the top,” Hildenberger said. “I just let it eat as hard as I could. Thank god it didn't hit him."

At least to this point in the season, Hildenberger appears to be Baldelli’s escape artist of choice out of the Twins’ fluid bullpen, as five of the 28-year-old right-hander’s eight outings this season have begun with multiple runners on base in close games, and he entered his last three games confronted with bases-loaded situations.

“We’ve brought him into some very difficult spots,” Baldelli said. “He’s not fazed. He seems to almost enjoy it. I enjoy calling on him and he’s done a nice job.”

After Sunday, Hildenberger leads the Majors with 14 inherited runners in 2019. Only three have scored -- all in the Twins’ bullpen meltdown against the Mets at Citi Field on Wednesday. Otherwise, Hildenberger has stonewalled all 11 inherited runners in the other five outings which he entered with men on base.

• March 31: Top of the 8th, 2 outs, runner on 2nd, Twins up 5 -- 0 runs scored
• April 2: Bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, runners on 1st and 2nd, tie game -- 0 runs scored
• April 5: Bottom of the 5th, 2 outs, runners on 2nd and 3rd, Twins down 3 -- 0 runs scored
• April 9: Bottom of the 5th, 2 outs, bases loaded, Twins up 3 -- 0 runs scored
• April 10: Bottom of the 5th, 2 outs, bases loaded, Twins down 2 -- 3 runs scored
• April 14: Top of the 9th, 1 out, bases loaded, Twins up 2 -- 0 runs scored

"That's where you want to be as a reliever,” Hildenberger said. “You want to be the guy that they rely on to come in tight spots and put out the fire. It's been fun so far."

Hildenberger credits his success this season to better command of his slider and the ability to keep his fastball away from the heart of the plate and down in the zone, which is something he said he struggled with last season when he fell behind in counts.

“He's nails,” catcher Mitch Garver said. “I like when [Hildenberger] gets out there because you know what you're going to get. He's a competitor. He throws a lot of strikes with multiple pitches in different arm slots.”

Offense picks up Berrios in his fourth quality start

Michael Pineda and Jose Berrios didn’t need too much help from their offense this series, but whenever the Twins starters fell behind against the Tigers, their offense was right there to pick them up.

Led by a three-hit game and a homer from the surging Eddie Rosario and a three-RBI game from C.J. Cron, the Twins scored five early runs and got multiple hits from five of their starters in on Sunday.

Berrios worked around an early pair of singles from Jeimer Candelario and Miguel Cabrera to finish a scoreless first inning, and the Twins offense immediately rewarded his efforts with two runs in the bottom of the frame. Max Kepler doubled and Nelson Cruz singled, then Rosario hit an RBI single to bring in Kepler and Cron drove in a run on a groundout.

When the Tigers pulled even on a Gordon Beckham two-run homer in the second inning, the Twins’ hitters answered right back with a Byron Buxton RBI double in the bottom of the inning and added two more an inning later on Cron’s first Twins homer, a line-drive laser to left field with only a 15 -degree launch angle.

In Saturday’s series opener, the Twins rode to a 4-3 victory after two Detroit runs in the third against Pineda were answered by four from the Twins in the bottom of the frame.

A stat that mattered

.735: Rosario’s slugging percentage in his last nine games. Rosario hit a solo homer to cap his three-hit game in the seventh inning, his third of the season, and has now hit safely in eight of his last nine games with a .382/.432/.735 line in that span.

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