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Twins, Pineda getting into stride

Braves righty K's 6, Baldelli talks rule changes, Twins announce plans for Target Field seating

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Mar 13, 2021

Twins starter Michael Pineda struck out six and allowed five hits and one earned run in 2 2/3 innings against the Braves Friday at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

While the games don’t technically count yet, the efforts say something about the mindset of a team as the Florida heat turns up and spring training hits the midpoint.

For the Minnesota Twins, there are still a lot of questions to be answered as they chase their first American League pennant in 30 years.

With six strikeouts and five hits allowed in two and two-thirds innings against the Atlanta Braves on Friday, Twins starter Michael Pineda showed he is still capable of being an upper-tier pitcher with his put-away slider but is still finding his rhythm.

Pineda allowed one earned run though two runs counted against him after a passed ball led to an unearned run in the first, and Braves infielder Johan Camargo hit a home run off Twins pitcher Andrew Vasquez on a 3-0 count after Pineda had departed with one man on in the third inning.

Pineda is no longer the high-90’s flamethrower who was an All-Star in his rookie year in Seattle in 2011 before shoulder injuries and Tommy John surgery and other arm problems led to stops and starts, though he has experienced flourishes of brilliance.

Braves slugger Marcell Ozuna, struck out three times against Twins pitching Friday at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

In 2014, after missing two seasons, he posted a career low 1.89 ERA in 13 games with the Yankees before an arm injury shut down his season early. In his 2016 season, he led the American League in strikeouts per nine innings but his next season and 2018 season were cut short by Tommy John surgery. He was suspended in 2019 for 60 games into the 2020 season for his use of a diuretic that contained a banned substance under baseball’s rules.

Listed at 6’7 and 280 pounds, Pineda is one of the more imposing pitchers to come around.

In 26 innings last year, Pineda never allowed a home run while pitching to a 3.38 ERA.

Pineda is a winning pitcher for his career because, as his manager Rocco Baldelli said, “it doesn’t matter what kind of game it is too, Mike finds a way to work through situations.”

For one, Pineda has always been one of the stingiest in the league with walks. His lone walk on Friday was on four pitches to National League MVP Freddie Freeman.

Braves shortstop Sean Kazmar Jr. hit a three-run blast off Twins pitcher Tyler Duffey Friday as the Braves won 8-5 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

Pineda did not appear to have great control Friday though it was tough to blame him in the sweltering sun. Pineda said he didn’t like the strike zone and had to throw a few over the middle. Of the five hits he gave up on 60 pitches, four were fastballs left over the plate and a fifth was a hanging slider.

“Him having to work a little bit to get through those innings is never a bad thing in spring training,” Baldelli said. “His stuff looked good.”

Pineda’s slider and changeup drew the most swings and misses.

Pineda’s slider was by far his best pitch last year, with hitters struggling massively to hit at a .119 clip when the pitch ended the at-bat. Hitters swung .381 when his fastball was the deciding pitch.

Looking good at the plate

Braves righty Touki Toussaint threw three scoreless innings against the Braves at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers during an 8-5 win Friday. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

With two hard-hit, line-drive doubles down the right field line, second baseman Luis Arraez showed why he has hit over .300 in each of his first two seasons.

Big innings

The Twins scored all of their runs in the fourth inning off Braves starter Huascar Ynoa and reliever Philip Pfeifer.

After taking a 5-3 lead, the Twins gave it back to the Braves in the seventh when Tyler Duffey served up a three-run homer to Sean Kazmar Jr.

Rules changes

Braves lefty Lewis Thorpe was sharp again, throwing a scoreless inning of relief against the Braves Friday, including a strikeout of Braves slugger Marcell Ozuna on eight pitches at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

More new rules will be experimented with this season at the single-A level. They include robot umpires, eliminating the shift from the outfield, limits on pickoff moves, increasing the size of the bases to make the distance shorter between bags, and a minimum number of batters that pitchers have to face in an inning.

“I’m glad the league is doing this on a lot of levels and I think it’s going to grow the game,” Baldelli said. “I think they are all good idea.”

Baldelli said he and Twins management “were able to have some input” on the rules changes. Baldelli said he thinks the experimentation in the minors will lead to changes at the major league level which will “make it better” though he said the discussion around umpires is separate from the other rules changes.

“I enjoy working with the umpires,” Baldelli said. “I think they add a lot to the game.” He said baseball would “certainly not be the same without them.”