Poppen spares bullpen, 'confident' after debut

Right-hander allows three runs over four innings of relief

June 20th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- After emptying the entire bullpen in 17 innings on Tuesday night, and with four more games in Kansas City coming up without the benefit of an off-day, the Twins needed some length out of starter on Wednesday.

They didn't get that.

Fortunately for the Twins, right-hander Sean Poppen was able to ease the burden on the Twins' relief corps with 70 pitches in four wild but needed innings in his Major League debut on Wednesday night. Poppen allowed three runs in his extended relief appearance, but he did exactly his job by eating those innings before he was optioned back to Triple-A Rochester following a 9-4 loss to the Red Sox.

"To really go out there and throw four innings for us, and going against a good lineup that's going to make you work for every out, him going out and doing that really helps us in a lot of different ways," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Our bullpen gets to reset now.

"It's easier said than done to send a guy out there in that situation and just say, 'Pitch and get outs.' It doesn't always work out where the guy gets through four innings for you, and he did, which was very nice."

Following the game, an energized Poppen described having "that kind of feeling you get before you're about to cry" as he made the long jog from the center-field bullpens to the Target Field mound for the first time to start the sixth inning. Poppen flashed 97 mph with his sinker and threw some effective sliders and changeups, but he struggled with his command, issuing a four-pitch walk to his first batter and throwing strikes on 39 of his 70 pitches.

"I don't know if it was nerves or just kind of adrenaline," Poppen said. "A lot of adrenaline."

Thanks in part to four walks, Poppen navigated traffic in his first three innings but limited the damage with three double plays -- one apiece in the sixth, seventh and eighth frames. He labored through a three-run eighth in which he allowed four straight hits to open the frame, but the 25-year-old capped his debut on a high note with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

Poppen ultimately allowed three runs on five hits in his four innings, with two strikeouts -- including a swinging punchout of Jackie Bradley Jr. for the first of his career.

"The results were not exactly what you wanted, but also, I felt like when I made good pitches, I definitely competed," Poppen said. "When I made bad pitches, they got hits or walks. So on the whole, as far as a debut is concerned, I feel confident. I know things to work on."

The 25-year-old was a starter in the Minor Leagues but arrived in Minneapolis ready to assume any kind of relief role -- short or long -- to help spell Minnesota's bullpen. With Poppen having last pitched six days earlier, the Twins squeezed everything they could get out of him.

"We've talked before about pitching in games where you're not really sure what the expectation is and the role when you walk out onto the mound," Baldelli said. "He knew he was going to be out there and pitching, and that's really all he knew when he stepped out there."

Poppen, a 19th-round selection out of Harvard University in the 2016 Draft, was woken up at 3 a.m. ET in the early hours of Wednesday morning in Columbus, Ohio, with the news of his promotion, capping a quick rise from Double-A Pensacola all the way to Target Field this season.

He was there on Wednesday night when the Twins needed him, got his long-awaited debut in the Major Leagues, learned what he needed to work on and, ultimately, ate the innings the Twins needed of him. And even after allowing three runs and being optioned back down to the Minors, he was happy about that.

"That was my job," Poppen said. "At the very least I did my job. I'm satisfied."

Astudillo makes triumphant return

Along with Poppen's extended outing, the Twins got encouraging performances from several other reinforcements from Triple-A in the face of their sudden injury flare-up, including a homer as part of a three-hit game by , and two walks and an RBI single from the continually impressive Luis Arraez.

Astudillo was mired in an extended slump when he was optioned down to Rochester, but he knocked multiple hits in seven of his nine games with the Triple-A club, including three homers, and kept his hot streak going with a second-inning single, fourth-inning dinger and infield hit in the eighth on Wednesday.

"When I went down there, I started watching some videos of what I was doing here and what I was doing down there," Astudillo said. "And I just worked on the things that weren't working for me when I was sent down."