CHICAGO -- It seems like some extra time away from the mound certainly did Michael Pineda some good -- and that’s an encouraging sign for the Twins (and any potential suitors interested in the right-hander) ahead of the upcoming July 30 Trade Deadline.
Exactly two weeks after an unsuccessful first start off the injured list, Pineda fared much better against the White Sox on Wednesday night in what might have been one of his final starts with the Twins. He held the South Siders to one run across five strong frames while Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler each homered for the second straight game in a 7-2 win that secured a split of the four-game series at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“Everyone we turned to went out there and just simply got the job done, and that’s big,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I mean, we added some runs and never really let it get close, and that’s a good feeling. We don’t have to let the game get close. We can put the other team away and play a game like we did tonight. That was really nice.”
While Pineda returned to his effective form on the pitching rubber, Polanco stayed hot by reaching base four times and falling a triple shy of the cycle. Polanco's three-run blast in the sixth inning off White Sox reliever Codi Heuer blew the game open. Kepler added two hits and two runs, while Josh Donaldson initially put the Twins ahead with his two-run single in the fifth.
Pineda’s four-seam fastball only averaged 89.5 mph -- well below his season average of 90.9 and his 2020 average of 92.1 -- but as is often the case with the veteran, the results spoke louder than the peripherals. Billy Hamilton doubled before scoring on an Adam Engel infield single in the third, but a timely double play helped Pineda avoid further damage in the frame.
Two innings later, Pineda struck out Engel to strand Tim Anderson on third to escape a jam in the fifth -- and end his night on a high note.
The key -- as usual for Pineda -- was in the effectiveness of his slider, which drew nine of his 10 swinging strikes and all three of his strikeouts during his 73-pitch outing. He gained confidence in the pitch as his outing progressed, ending his night with his fewest runs allowed in an outing (one) since he took a comebacker off his pitching arm on May 26.
"This is a long season, and sometimes you lose a little bit on your secondary pitch, your slider, your changeup, whatever,” Pineda said. “I'm trying to make adjustments between my starts and try to execute my slider. When I have my slider working really good, I'm pitching a really good game."
Regardless of what the Twins choose to do with their players with more than a year left before free agency (namely José Berríos, Taylor Rogers and Byron Buxton), Pineda always figured to be one of the most likely to be traded among those on expiring contracts at this Deadline due to his extreme consistency across three seasons in Minnesota.
But that comebacker off Pineda’s arm in late May in a start against Baltimore might have thrown a wrench into those plans, especially when coupled with his three subsequent shaky starts and his 12-hit, five-run shellacking at the hands of these same White Sox in his previous start.
On Wednesday night, he looked like the good old Pineda that the Twins had come to expect over the years -- and just in time, too, with one more start remaining ahead of the Trade Deadline ... if he’s still around by that point.
Much like the Twins’ other players who appear likely to be dealt at the Deadline, Pineda said that he tries not to think about the possibility that his tenure in Minnesota could be coming to an end. Considering his longevity, as well as the club keeping faith in him through a Tommy John recovery and a suspension -- that can be tough, too.
"Yeah, I know it's a little hard, but for me, personally, I don't try to put that in my head, because I have work to do and I want to focus and be ready every five days and help my team,” Pineda said.
If this was indeed one of Pineda’s final showcases in a Twins uniform, he made it one to remember -- and picked a good opponent for it, too.