Mahle rewards Baldelli's faith in critical spot

August 13th, 2022

ANAHEIM -- When you ask the Twins’ starting pitchers about the managerial decisions to pull them from the game, they say it’s never a dialogue. The call has been made; they’re simply informed of the decision, either on the mound during an inning or on the bench between frames.

But here’s what Sonny Gray said about Tyler Mahle when the Twins dealt for his old teammate at the Trade Deadline: "Mahle gets better as the game goes on." Here’s what Reds manager David Bell told Rocco Baldelli when they connected on the phone following the trade: "Hand Mahle the ball, let him pitch, let him do his job."

So, when Mahle pitched himself into a jam in the sixth inning on Friday, Baldelli strode to the Angel Stadium mound, thinking he was going to turn to his bullpen, as he almost always does in that situation. But he changed his mind -- and Mahle escaped, capping six shutout innings to pitch his new team to a 4-0 victory over the Angels and snap a three-game losing streak.

“In his career, he’s thrown a lot of pitches and gotten through a lot of situations,” Baldelli said. “It’s kind of what he does. It’s one of the things that I think he’s really good at from everything that I know and everything that I’m learning about him.”

Mahle cruised through the first five innings, allowing two singles and a walk, before hitting a speed bump in the sixth. With the Twins leading, 3-0, he issued a leadoff walk to No. 9 hitter Steven Duggar, and even after he induced a lineout from David Fletcher and struck out Shohei Ohtani, Mahle was tagged for a Luis Rengifo double that put runners on second and third with two outs.

Veteran catcher Sandy León jogged out to the mound to discuss how they would attack Taylor Ward -- but seconds later, Baldelli emerged from the dugout. That’s almost always the kiss of death, especially with a fully loose Michael Fulmer ready in the bullpen.

The funny thing is that there evidently wasn’t even much of a conversation. As Mahle remembers it, Baldelli just asked how he was feeling.

“Great. I think I’m good,” Mahle replied.

It was more of Mahle’s body language and reputation that swayed Baldelli’s decision. Bell had told him about Mahle’s steadiness in such situations. The Twins had discussed Mahle’s ability to stay calm and make those big pitches when they were looking into him as a trade target, Baldelli said. He saw that Mahle’s pitches still had good action, and that the right-hander seemed “very relaxed and intent on pitching.”

Two foul balls and a flyout to the right-field warning track later, Mahle had rewarded his skipper’s faith.

“I had full confidence that I could get that next guy out,” Mahle said. “And I had a feeling he wasn't going to take me out while he was walking out.”

That’s the kind of workhorse effort the Twins needed coming off their controversial and emotional loss in 10 innings to the Blue Jays on Sunday, and a pair of demoralizing blowout losses to the Dodgers on Monday and Tuesday. That’s why Minnesota parted with three top-30 prospects to acquire Mahle from the Reds to serve as a workhorse to anchor the front end of their rotation.

The Twins had gotten one start measuring six innings in the 23 games before Mahle made his Minnesota debut. Mahle has now completed six innings in both of his appearances for his new team.

The last time a Twins starter had thrown six shutout innings was on June 28, when Josh Winder did so in a 6-0 win over the Guardians. Incidentally, that was also the last time Minnesota's staff had twirled a shutout.

At long last, Mahle gave the Twins another one of those efforts -- the “stopper” outing they needed to right the ship.

Mahle gave a wry smile when asked if he knew how rare it was for Baldelli to let him keep going in that sixth inning. Perhaps he’d bought himself some more of those -- and the Twins could use that.

“Most of the time, we know what we’re doing, and we make the move and we bring the next guy in and let him do his job,” Baldelli said. “But in that spot, I went out there with a thought. I walked away with a different thought. I believe, in that spot, when he tells me he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go.”