CLEVELAND — Brusdar Graterol doesn’t know the Twins’ history. But he made plenty of it on Saturday.
Graterol was assigned to pitch the sixth inning of a game the Twins trailed by a run, 5-4, and he announced his presence right away. The rookie right-hander’s first pitch to Mike Freeman was a two-seam fastball, a sinker, that was measured at 100.4 mph. It’s the first pitch in excess of 100 mph since 2009, when little-known Juan Morillo eclipsed that velocity in the final game of his career.
“I came in with nobody on base, and I started from my entire windup instead of the stretch,” Graterol said of his fifth career appearance, and his most impressive one yet. “That usually helps me throw harder.”
Whatever the reason, Graterol lived up to the rocket-arm reputation he developed as he rose through the Twins’ minor-league system. The young Venezuelan threw seven pitches harder than 100 mph, topping out with a fastball that Greg Allen fouled off that registered 101.9 mph — the fastest recorded pitch ever thrown by a Twin.
Graterol faced six batters, and overwhelmed them all, finishing with three strikeouts and three weak groundouts. It felt like a coming-of-age announcement by the 21-year-old who the Twins envision tackling some big moments in the postseason.
“Who wouldn’t like that?” Graterol said. “It would be a great opportunity, but I’m focusing on working hard and helping the team get as far as possible.”
The team, and specifically Miguel Sano, helped him get something, too: His first career win. Sano’s grand slam in the eighth inning made Graterol the winner, and he received the game ball from Twins manager Rocco Baldelli after the game.
“He has ability that very few people have. The pure velocity in and of itself is pretty unique,” Baldelli said. “The stuff is real and he seems like a great young man, too.”
Sano said he wasn’t looking for a grand slam in the eighth inning of Game 2, and perhaps his own bases-loaded history is why: Sano had hit just .135 in his career with three runners on base, and was 0-for-6 this season.
“A couple of times, I had the bases loaded and tried to hit the ball too hard,” Sano said. “In that at-bat, I went to the plate and was just thinking about trying to hit the ball.”
With the game tied, Nick Goody had just been summoned to face him, and the Indians righthander tried to get ahead in the count with a slider. Sano was ready for it. The ball traveled 415 feet and landed a half-dozen rows up in the left-center stands.
“The guy made a mistake,” Sano said. “He threw me a [slider] down the middle.”
“It’s a tremendous swing, and a very challenging, dramatic moment. Something big was needed,” Baldelli marveled. “These are really emotional, big games. [It’s] a different brand of baseball this time of year, and that’s just a huge play and a huge swing.”
The Indians got a little feisty in the third inning, and it bothered Baldelli a little. Jordan Luplow crushed a home run to center field off Lewis Thorpe, and awkwardly but conspicuously flipped his bat in celebration, nearly hitting Jason Castro with it. Castro said something to umpire Stu Scheurwater, but made no issue of it with Luplow as he crossed home plate.
The next batter, Franmil Reyes then struck out on a Thorpe fastball and slammed the bat handle at the ground in anger, snapping it off. A small piece split off, ricocheting Scheurwater’s way.
“I don’t know if either one of those was intentional in any way, but when bats are moving towards your catcher and the umpire, you generally take notice. And you should take notice,” Baldelli said. “I wouldn’t doubt that when [Luplow] threw the bat toward home plate, it got stuck in his hand in some way. That happens all the time, actually. Still, when [Castro] and when Stu behind the plate have to deal with that — they shouldn’t have to deal with that.”
Baldelli also was annoyed by Cleveland starter Mike Clevinger, who made a reference to Jorge Polanco’s steroid suspension after the shortstop’s home run sent him to defeat in the first game.
Asked afterward whether he was surprised by Polanco’s homer, Clevinger cracked, “I mean, after last year, are you surprised?” The remark was an apparent reference to Polanco’s 80-game suspension in 2018 for failing a steroids test.
Polanco had no comment after the game, but Baldelli said the Twins were aware of it.
“I think Clevinger was frustrated with the game and the outcome,” Baldelli said. “If he had any idea what a solid and tremendous, wonderful person Polo is, I don’t think he would say those things.”
Nelson Cruz hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning of Game 2, his 37th of the season and 397th of his career. He was intentionally walked in the eighth inning, and scored on Sano’s homer. But when his turn came up again in the ninth, Baldelli sent LaMonte Wade Jr. to the plate to hit for the slugger.
“His neck was a little stiff,” Baldelli said. “We’re going to assess him tonight and tomorrow and see how he’s doing.”
Jake Odorizzi, whose start Friday night was washed out after 27 pitches, played catch in the outfield between games, and then told Baldelli he was ready to pitch, on zero days’ rest, if necessary.
“Odo offered to pitch today. We told him most likely not … but if there was an emergency and in a particular situation, maybe,” Baldelli said. “We wouldn’t do anything to risk any of our guys. I wouldn’t say he’s conditioned to go on back-to-back days, but I don’t think it would have been the craziest thing I’ve seen.”
Instead, Odorizzi will likely wait until at least Thursday to pitch again. Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson decided after the doubleheader to push Jose Berrios’ Sunday start to Monday, a subtle if unmistakeable indication that they feel far more confident now about holding off the Indians. Randy Dobnak will start Sunday’s game, and Berrios and Martin Perez will start the first two games against the White Sox at Target Field.