MINNEAPOLIS -- Two months ago, as the Trade Deadline approached and it looked like Michael Pineda would be headed out the door as part of Minnesota’s sale, the big right-hander denied even entertaining the idea that he might have pitched in a Twins uniform for the last time.
“I'm a Minnesota Twin, and I know I want to stay here,” Pineda said after that July 26 start.
As it turned out, he still had two months left in Minnesota after he wasn’t traded. But this time, the possibility of a farewell is unavoidable, and perhaps that’s why, as Pineda ambled off the Target Field mound and into the dugout during the sixth inning of the Twins' 5-2 win over the Tigers on Wednesday night, he raised his hand to wave to the fans as they gave him a warm ovation for a job well done -- the latest in the line of many, many such outings in three seasons.
“I hope that’s not the last time we’re going to be taking him out of a ballgame in a Twins uniform, but it was definitely a very nice way to end his season,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Pineda’s final performance before hitting free agency wasn’t a lights-out one, as he scattered eight hits over 5 2/3 innings and exited after allowing a pair of two-out knocks in the sixth. But as he did in nearly all of his 53 appearances for the Twins since 2019, he gave them a good chance to win by allowing only one run on an RBI fielder’s choice -- a comebacker off his leg in the fourth inning -- while Jorge Polanco’s three-run shot in the first inning provided enough offense.
“The only thing I have control of is to be ready every five days and take the ball and go to the mound and give [my team] the opportunity to win the game,” said Pineda after his start.
For the 44th time in those 53 appearances with Minnesota, Pineda held the opponent to three or fewer earned runs. It was by no means glamorous or flashy, but the 32-year-old veteran was the hallmark of consistency through that stretch, both in and out of the clubhouse. Pineda served as a virtual lock for at least five innings and no more than three runs allowed on the field, and a steadying influence from his corner locker for all who needed it off the field.
“He’s been about as important of a member of this group over the last three years as anyone,” Baldelli added. “He’s been a constant, his performance has been a constant, his leadership has been a constant, and his personality, too, which matters.”
Perhaps this isn’t goodbye, though, because that word, “constant,” is something the Twins need in 2022 and beyond.
Due to a combination of free-agent departures and trades, the state of Minnesota’s starting rotation for next season likely involves Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober and a handful of question marks beyond that. The Twins will surely be in the market for plenty of help in both the rotation and the bullpen this offseason, and a consistent, reliable, relatively inexpensive presence like that of Pineda could make sense as a mid-rotation anchor for an otherwise young, volatile group.
“It doesn't matter if you're a Dominican player or a Latino or an American -- he helps all of the rookies when they need help,” said Jorge Alcala of Pineda. “He's a great supporter and a great leader.”
It’s been a fruitful relationship for both sides, and Pineda has made no secret of his affection for the organization, which first inked him to a two-year deal before the 2018 season knowing that he’d miss the year while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and signed him to another two-year deal before the ‘20 season knowing that he’d miss a chunk of that year due to a suspension.
It’s tough to know what the future holds, but there’s plenty of respect on both sides -- and only time will tell if the sides can agree for a third time.
“I’d love to have Mike back here going forward,” Baldelli said. “He’s been a guy that I think all [of] the guys will be following going into the offseason, still talking to him, seeing what he’s thinking, seeing how things are going, and we’ll see how it plays out. He’s endeared himself to this group.”
“I love the city and I love everybody here,” Pineda added. “If I [get] the opportunity to be back, I'd be happy."