Ober: 5.0 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K (71,2% strikes)
Home Runs: Cruz (12), Sanó (13), Donaldson 2 (10)
Bottom 3 WPA: Shoemaker -.352, Duffey -.174, Larnach -.130
Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs)
Some great news brought in some optimism for Twins fans earlier today. The club announced that struggling starter Matt Shoemaker would be sent to the bullpen and rookie Bailey Ober would start tonight’s game. Could this mean that Shoemaker’s stint in Minnesota is close to an end?
Ober took advantage of another opportunity, making his third start of the season. It didn’t take very long for this one to become special for him. He pitched through the first two innings quickly, on only 28 pitches. After giving up a leadoff single to Martín Maldonado in the third, he struck out the next batter, then his fifth punchout of the game, already his career-high.
However, he did pitch himself into a small jam during that same inning. Michael Brantley doubled on a 0-2 curveball, putting two runners in scoring position right away. No team in baseball has allowed more 0-2 hits than the Twins this season. Alex Bregman pushed a run across on a sac-fly, but Ober limited the damage to that one run.
Fortunately, while Ober navigated through his ups and downs, he got some early run support to make things a bit less difficult for him. Minnesota hit a solo home run in each of the first three innings. Nelson Cruz picked up right where he left off on Thursday night, taking José Urquidy deep after a nice, seven-pitch at-bat. With that dinger, his 12th of the year, he tied Miguel Sanó for the team-lead.
But Miggy wouldn’t just sit there and take that. He had something to say about that.
Then, when Houston cut the Twins’ lead in half in the top of the third, Josh Donaldson brought the rain and with a solo shot of his own, he gave Ober the two-run lead back, making it 3-1 Minnesota.
After pitching a quick, scoreless fourth, Ober’s pitch count was still under 60. He earned himself the chance to pitch into the fifth inning for the first time in his big league career. José Altuve homered to the corner of the left field, on a ball that ricocheted off the foul pole into the limestone. Immediately after that, Brantley singled and suddenly Ober was in a potentially tough situation.
Ober didn’t shy away from the challenge, as he managed to retire both batters that followed, including a strikeout against red-hot Yordan Álvarez (Ober’s seventh in the game) to close the inning, after a tough seven-pitch at-bat with a man on. You couldn’t ask for a better learning opportunity for the rookie, who was pulled right after this, in line for his first major league win.
Rocco Baldelli decided not to bring Ober back to the sixth, even though he was still at 73 pitches (52 for strikes). Jorge Alcalá took over, making his fourth appearance in the last five days. After falling behind 3-0 on the count, he was later taken deep by Yuli Gurriel, who tied the game with a leadoff home run. He retired the side on ten pitches next. In spite of the game-tying home run, Alcalá is still having a very positive month of June, in which he has as many strikeouts as innings pitched (five) and has yet to give up a walk.
While the offense struggled to produce baserunners, Tyler Duffey took over to pitch the seventh. He looked off from the beginning and even got one of the trainers to check on him on the mound after he retired the leadoff man. Command started to elude him and the inning became really sloppy. He walked Altuve and hit Brantley just before Bregman grounded out to bring Altuve home, making it 4-3 Astros.
Donaldson ties the game, Shoemaker chokes it
After the offense went down in order in the bottom of the seventh, it was time for Shoemaker’s first appearance out of the bullpen in a Twins uniform. Very convincingly, he pitched a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 inning. Which immediately raised the question: could the Twins find value (or trade value, for that matter) for him in relief pitching?
Donaldson decided he wasn’t done being on fire, so in the bottom of the eighth, he brought the rain again. That’s three home runs in less than 24 hours for him, or five at-bats, to be more precise.
But the question some of us were asking ourselves about Shoemaker after the eight was quickly answered in the ninth. Looking completely lost, he gave up two runs on three hits, in what seemed to be one of his worst outings as a Twin. A leadoff single to Myles Straw, followed by an RBI-double to Maldonado, and an RBI-single to Brantley later, while recording only one out. Former Twin Ryan Pressly didn’t have an easy task, as it took him 20 pitches to close out the game, but he did manage to retire Minnesota batters in order.
Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet