CLEVELAND – Trevor May recognized the moment. He had one himself a few years ago, that instant when a young starting pitcher is on the mound in a relief role and realizes: Hey, I can do this. And it’s a lot of fun.
Righthander Brusdar Graterol, a starter throughout four professional seasons, experienced that occasion Saturday, when he faced six Indians hitters, overwhelmed them with perhaps the highest velocity any Twins pitcher has ever displayed, and made it difficult to imagine a playoff roster without him.
“It’s one of those things about being up here — you’ve got to go out and prove you can do certain things, and last night felt like it was important for him,” said May, himself a converted starter. “He seized the moment. It’s just about moving forward, and you start getting maybe a little bit higher[-intensity] situations.”
Graterol entered with the Twins trailing 5-4 in the second game of a doubleheader and announced his arrival with his very first pitch, a sinker to Mike Freeman that was measured at 100.4 miles per hour. Not only did it set a tone — he threw seven pitches that eclipsed 100, topping out with one Greg Allen fouled off that registered at 101.9 mph — but it made Graterol the first Twins pitcher to exceed 100 mph since 2009, when Juan Morillo did it in the final game of his big-league 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. “That usually helps me throw harder.”
Count Rocco Baldelli among the impressed. “He’s a talented guy. He offers a pretty different look than almost anyone else,” the Twins manager said. “I mean, 100-mph sinkers are not generally what guys see every day.”
Seeing it every day, now there’s an idea. The Twins don’t want to put the strain of starting on Graterol’s 21-year-old arm this year. But the more he develops, the more tempting it will be to convert him into a reliever, right?
“I wouldn’t speak to his long-term role,” Baldelli said, though he offered a few hints about his enthusiasm for an Aroldis Chapman-type weapon. “I don’t think it took him very long to figure out [this new role] and feel good in it. He also dealt with being nicked up earlier in the year, so this type of role, this type of situation might work well for him.”
Graterol’s opinion? “I just want to help the team, and if it’s as a starter or if it’s [as] a reliever, that’s fine with me,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything specific for next year. If they want me to go back to being a starter, I’ll do it.”
Western Pennsylvania native Randy Dobnak estimated there were 40 friends and family members in the Progressive Field crowd to see him start against the Indians on Sunday. He gave them a show — the best start of his month-old career.
Dobnak pitched five innings — giving up two first-inning runs, though one was unearned — then proceeded to induce one ground ball after another. Of the 15 outs he recorded, 10 came on ground balls.
“That’s my thing. I try to get early contact. I throw that sinker they just pound into the ground,” the righthander said. “They’ll get their hits, but some double-play balls, too. Just weak contact to get out of jams.”
Said Baldelli: “He was fantastic. If we make the plays behind him, we’re out of that [first inning] potentially in a scoreless situation. And once he settled in, too, he got even better.”
Martin Gonzalez and Willians Astudillo were the only Twins to take batting practice Sunday, Astudillo probably because he likes to hit every during waking moment. For Gonzalez, the session was more practical: Prove that he’s ready.
“Everything went well,” Baldelli said of Gonzalez, out nearly three weeks because of an oblique strain. “We could see Marwin on the field very soon.”