The Twins lost their two hottest hitters before Wednesday’s game -- and it showed.
Before the 2021 season, club leaders assembled a roster that they hoped would have the depth to weather the rigors of a 162-game schedule, but there’s simply no way to prepare for losing a team’s top five outfield options, starting catcher and three pitchers at the same time, with Rob Refsnyder (concussion) and Mitch Garver (groin contusion) the latest to hit the shelf.
The end result looks something like Wednesday’s ballgame, in which newly recalled catcher Ryan Jeffers homered, tripled and accounted for all of Minnesota’s runs, while the rest of the Twins’ lineup combined for four hits against the AL-worst Orioles in a 6-3 loss at Camden Yards, securing a second straight series defeat amid a relative lull in Minnesota’s schedule.
And those injury woes? They somehow got even worse when reliever Caleb Thielbar, tied for the bullpen’s lead in strikeouts, exited in the seventh with a mild left groin strain. The Twins will evaluate the left-hander over the next 24 hours to see if he’ll require a stint on the injured list.
“For much of the year this year, it’s been a health report every day and talking through who can do what and piecing it together and finding a way,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “So yeah, there is a lot of that. That’s just as important, if not one of the more important parts of what we do. Normally, we don’t have to do it to this extent.”
That’s not what the Twins needed on a night in which they hit another setback to their recent positive momentum with consecutive series losses to the Royals and Orioles. Alex Colomé allowed a three-run homer out of an already beleaguered bullpen following Thielbar’s exit, and Minnesota’s offense reeled in the wake of losing Garver -- who led the team with a .579 slugging percentage in May -- and Refsnyder, who was hitting .320/.364/.500 through 16 games.
Jeffers gave the club a needed jolt with a second-inning solo blast that traveled a projected 441 feet to center, and he added a run and an RBI triple in the eighth, his first three-bagger at any level as a professional. But otherwise, Minnesota’s lineup mustered just one hit from the third to seventh innings and stranded two apiece in the first and eighth, its most promising opportunities.
“I think he's very happy to be back, and I think he made the most of his time in St. Paul,” Baldelli said. “He knows he's here to work. He's ready to get down to the tasks of preparing for a game and getting ready every day.”
It’s good for the Twins that their catcher of the future is taking well to his opportunity as the next man up. But they’re running out of next men up -- perhaps they already have -- and their record (22-23) shows that.
Since the Twins finally captured some positive momentum with a series win over Cleveland and a sweep of this same Baltimore team last week, Byron Buxton and Kenta Maeda hit setbacks in their recoveries, and they lost Luis Arraez, Max Kepler, and now Garver, Refsnyder and possibly Thielbar.
The challenge, then, is to control how this adversity is perceived within the clubhouse, and how the team emerges from the other side.
“I don't think you can ever let it become the narrative,” Baldelli said. “I think you have to let it become kind of a conversation amongst our group of opportunity, and when you do find ways to have success -- when it's not Plan A or Plan B or Plan C and you still find ways to go out there and do it -- it's very fulfilling.”
But when things get to this point -- when the club is trotting out its sixth center fielder in less than a month, when Baldelli acknowledges that injury conversations “take most of the day and most of everybody’s energy” -- it becomes all but impossible to ignore.
And that’s not helping the Twins dig out of this hole at a pivotal juncture of their season.
“It sucks,” said Randy Dobnak, who allowed three runs on eight hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings. “It’s almost like every day, someone gets knocked down. It sucks for them and it sucks for us. It’s a tough situation, but you’ve got to grind through it. We’ve got guys who we need to step up. Just try and stay healthy. I don’t know what else to say, but yeah, it sucks.”