The Twins don’t appear to be angry with Michael Pineda; that doesn’t mean you can’t be.
Pineda ran a short mea culpa lap Tuesday, Sept. 10, to accept responsibility for a 60-game drug suspension that officially ended his season and, one imagines, his brief career renaissance in Minnesota.
“I’m going to pay for my mistake,” he told reporters.
Well, mostly the Twins will pay for it, on the balance sheet and in the playoffs. Minnesota already had written checks to Pineda totaling roughly $9 million when it learned its arguably best pitcher will not be pitching as they try to nail down their first American League Central Division title since 2010.
Twins players and coaches appear to have rallied around Pineda, suspended because he tested positive for a diuretic called Hydrochlorothiazide, a common blood pressure medication considered a masking agent by the World Anti-Doping Agency and banned by Major League Baseball.
Twins fans have been waiting 17 years for their team to win a playoff series; that became less likely this season because Pineda did something that was at best stupid, and at worst selfish — and probably both. It seems odd and, frankly, unreasonable for fans not to be angry about this development.
Major league teams have a cornucopia of medicines and potions available to players, all vetted to ensure compliance with MLB rules. Pineda went elsewhere to find a ubiquitous over-the-counter supplement he got from an acquaintance.
The new wrinkle dropped Tuesday was the fact that Pineda had been appealing his suspension for “about two months.” It didn’t take Twins fans long to do the math and realize that Pineda knew before the July 31 trade deadline that he might, at any moment, be unavailable for the rest of the season. Maybe the Twins would have tried harder to acquire another starting pitcher.
But that’s not the way it works; under MLB rules, a team is not informed of a drug suspension until after an appeal has been exhausted, and a player who knows his head is on the block probably isn’t inclined to tell his employer to start looking for his replacement.
“Big Mike is not responsible for telling us those things, you know what I mean?” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I don’t feel like Big Mike owes it to anyone to tell us. You play by the system, the way it’s written, and this is the way it’s written.”
Those within the organization are likely to sympathize with Pineda. They know him and obviously like him; most have been major league players. And it helped that an MLB arbitrator reduced Pineda’s suspension by 20 games, apparently moved at least somewhat by Big Mike’s explanation that he wasn’t doping but trying to manage the weight on his 6-foot-7 frame.
Teammates also recognize that Pineda played a large role in helping the Twins build a five-game lead in the Central. After striking out a season-high 10 batters in a 6-2, extra-inning loss to Cleveland last Friday — he left with a 2-1 lead — Pineda was 7-1 with a 2.76 ERA since June 29.
Unfortunately, so it will stay.
The Twins entered Wednesday’s game against Washington at Target Field winners of 17 of their past 24 games despite a rash of injuries to regulars such as Byron Buxton, Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler, Miguel Sano and Marwin Gonzalez. At some point, that will make a bigger difference than it has, and second-place Cleveland will not go away.
The Indians have won five of the past seven games in the season series and cut what was an 11-game deficit on June 14 to five, so the Twins’ biggest series of the season will be this weekend in Cleveland.
It’s difficult to guess how banged up the Twins will be. Gonzalez (oblique) and Kepler (shoulder) don’t seem close. Sano, bothered by back pain, has been lobbying to play but has missed three straight games. Jake Cave, a big help in the outfield of late, remains sidelined by a groin strain.
All we know for sure is the Twins will be without Buxton, whose season was ended Tuesday by season-ending shoulder surgery, and Pineda, who has only himself to blame.
John Shipley can be reached at 651-228-5108 and firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @ShipleyMN.