MINNEAPOLIS -- It was one year ago to the day on Monday that the news came down: Michael Pineda, who had been the Twins’ most reliable starter during the second half of the 2019 season, would be suspended for violating MLB’s performance enhancing drug policy.
Pineda had tested positive for a banned diuretic, which he said had been taken to control his weight. It was a crushing for the Twins — and for Pineda personally, who had to watch from afar while his teammates celebrated a division title without him and then got swept in the playoffs.
Pineda began this season working in St. Paul, getting himself built up to finally be able to contribute. But now he’s back. And the Twins couldn’t be happier about that. Pineda threw seven strong innings on Monday, becoming just the second Twins starter to do so this year, in the Twins’ 6-2 win over the Tigers in the series finale at Target Field.
“I’m feeling very proud of myself because that’s what we want, just trying to work longer in the game and give everything I’ve got every five to six days, and especially today, because we have a doubleheader tomorrow and it’s a tough doubleheader for relievers,” Pineda said. “We try to keep it up in the game to get some rest for the relievers. That’s my focus.”
It was his second start of the season after throwing six innings in his debut last week. In two starts, Pineda has now given up four runs in 13 innings with 12 strikeouts, including eight on Monday, for a 2.77 ERA.
“It’s a very difficult thing both physically to get back to where you want to be, and mentally to actually get that into the right mindset to go out there and play baseball at the highest level,” Baldelli said. “There’s not a lot of room or time to just figure things out and just kind of settle back in. Big Mike has been ready to go from the first pitch he returned, and I don’t know if every guy does it that easily.”
Pineda, who only gave up three hits in his outing, allowed a run in the fourth and one in the seventh, but never trailed in the game after the Twins (26-17) had surged ahead of the Tigers (18-21) with a four-run third inning.
That inning included rookie catcher Ryan Jeffers’ first career home run, which was hit at 111.3 miles per hour off the bat and went an estimated 437 feet before disappearing into the junipers in center field. Baldelli joked that they would need to get a weedwhacker to find the ball, but said they would find a way to honor Jeffers soon for the milestone.
“That was a rocket and as soon as it left the bat, everyone knew it was not going to stay in the park,” Baldelli said.
The third inning also included an Eddie Rosario bases-loaded double, which hit off first base and went into right field. Rosario was caught in a run down between second and third base, but all three runs scored on the play.
An inning later, Jeffers delivered an RBI single, bringing home Jake Cave and in the eighth, Byron Buxton hit a ball to the second deck in left field an estimated 416 feet for his sixth home run of the season.
Cody Stashak, who was activated from the injured list on Monday, threw a scoreless eighth inning and Taylor Rogers locked down the ninth for Pineda’s first win in more than a year.
“I know last year was a little frustrating for me because of the situation that happened,” Pineda said. “I’m putting everything in the past and right now, I say thanks to God and thanks to the Twins for giving me the opportunity to come back. I’m trying to help my team get in the playoffs this year.”