The need for Jose Berrios to break out of his six-start funk when he faces the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night would have been strong. On Saturday, after notice came that Michael Pineda had been handed a 60-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance, that need was increased from strong to crucial.
Pineda had become the Twins’ best starter over the second half of the schedule, and with him gone, it’s pretty much “Berrios and Odorizzi, and hope it’s drizzly” for the final three weeks of the schedule.
(Note: Old ball writers have been trying to offer spinoffs of “Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain,” since the Braves were still in Boston, and this is just another one, so accept it and move on.)
The starting pitcher crisis and the Berrios struggle have overshadowed another talented athlete who would offer a large boost were he to come out of a funk – that being Eddie Rosario, the Twins’ Player of the Year in 2018, as well as for the first one-third of this season.
The Twins played Game 54 on May 28 vs. Milwaukee and Rosario carried 17 home runs, 47 RBI, a .285 average and a front-running position to be on the American League roster for the All-Star Game.
A month later, he was more a possibility than a certainty, even with a hot streak of 17 for 37 (.459) in eight games from June 18 to June 26. He sprained an ankle trying for a double against Tampa Bay on the 26th, and wound up on the injured list until July 16.
One night after his return, he hit a three-run, pinch-hit home run that brought the Twins back from the dead vs. Oakland and was declared by many to be the Twins’ “biggest hit of the season.”
Odes were written to Rosario’s talent as a hitter, to those magically quick and strong hands. There was that whole look-out-now vibe – the expectation that Eddie was ready to go on a tear.
The highlight for Rosario since then has been throwing out Boston’s Rafael Devers at the plate for the final out of last Thursday’s unlikely 2-1 victory in Fenway Park.
Rosario cited his love of the big moments after that game, as he had after the pinch-hit home run in mid-July. That always has been the theme with Eddie’s admirers: that no fastball, that no challenge on a ballfield, will intimidate him.
And, there’s a challenge right now, with Nelson Cruz fighting through a wrist injury, and ironman Max Kepler now having an injury issue, and Byron Buxton not coming back, and even Jake Cave out of the lineup …
Right now, it’s time for Eddie to return to being Big Moment Man, the best hitter in the Twins’ employ when he’s swinging at pitches in the same zip code. Lately, he’s been flailing like the young player the previous Twins operation was highly tempted to a trade several years ago.
He swung at a pitch that bounced a couple of feet in front of the plate the other day. He has been reaching to swing with one-third power on pitches a half-foot off the outside corner and lifting pop ups to the left side of the diamond.
You can’t use those magic wrists when you’re flailing like that. You can’t be the Twins’ best hitter when you’re giving the pitcher the advantage of being able to get an out without throwing a pitch near the plate.
With all these injuries, the Twins’ hitting needs Eddie to be Eddie, almost as much as the pitching needs Berrios to be Berrios. To repeat: Almost.
Bigp picture the numbers are still there: 28 home runs, 94 RBI, .275. Recent picture … not so much.
Rosario is 12 for 57 (.211) in 13 games since Aug. 21. Somehow, there are nine RBI in there, but they haven’t come on ringing, bases-clearing doubles. He has not been hitting the ball hard with any consistency in weeks.
And the Twins very much would appreciate one of those Eddie hot streaks … right, Rocco Baldelli?
“Eddie’s a streaky guy; he can get as hot as anybody in the game,” the Twins manager said after Sunday’s 5-2 loss to Cleveland. “We’ve talked about this before. You never know when it’s going to happen. He shows up one day, and all of a sudden, he’s capable of being among the best hitters in baseball for a long period of time.
“So I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened again really soon.”
Fair enough – and remember Eddie, those fans in Target Field aren’t chanting “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie” only because you’re generous in tossing them baseballs. They also are chanting because of a belief that you are the Big Moment Man.