The Twins went to their bullpen to start the sixth inning Wednesday, and Brock Stewart's first pitch ended up banging off the outfield wall for a double.
Next batter: bunt single.
Next batter: walk.
Bases loaded, no outs, a five-run lead suddenly not so comfortable.
Gulp. Not again.
Eh, crisis averted this time.
Stewart and Jovani Moran pitched out of the mess and Jhoan Duran put a bow on an encouraging outing for the bullpen by throwing the fastest pitch of his young career — just under 105 mph — in a 7-1 win over the San Francisco Giants at Target Field.
One solid outing doesn't remove concerns about the bullpen, but the Twins badly needed something positive after watching their bullpen sabotage too many games in posting 13 losses, second most in major league baseball.
Four relievers combined to throw four scoreless innings Wednesday, with nine strikeouts. The Giants' final nine outs all came on whiffs.
The 'pen's work didn't require much high-leverage, high-stress fortitude, but that group finished the game as a positive, not a negative. So that's progress.
Few things in baseball are more deflating than a bullpen that squanders leads. The Twins rank 11th in the majors in bullpen ERA with the fifth-lowest opponent batting average. But it's the situational hiccups, the 13 losses, the untimely walks that have been killer.
The struggles cannot be tied directly to the starting rotation and being overworked, as was the case last season.
The team's starters recorded 110 starts last season that ended before the sixth inning, tops in MLB. Starters faced only 448 batters a third time in a game, which was the second-lowest total of any team in the past 100 years.
That handling of the rotation caused a shaky bullpen to incinerate.
Overuse isn't an issue this season. Twins starters rank fourth in innings pitched. Joe Ryan threw 107 pitches Wednesday, marking the 10th time a starter has reached 100 pitches this season. That already ties their total from last season, in 50 games.
The bullpen should be well-rested. The results don't reflect that through one-third of the season, raising questions about whether the front office needs to find immediate help.
The answer comes down to this: Jorge López sufficiently filling the role of dominant eighth-inning stopper and Griffin Jax regaining his form and effectiveness from last season.
If that happens, the bullpen doesn't look so vulnerable. But problems get magnified when the most trusted options falter. Jax, a revelation last season after shifting to a reliever role, has accounted for six of the bullpen's 13 losses.
The Twins had no complaints with Wednesday's outing to avoid a sweep by the Giants.
Moran entered with the bases loaded and induced a ground ball on the first pitch. He added three strikeouts in the seventh inning — all on changeups. If he can harness his control issues, his changeup makes him an asset as a lefty option.
"When I'm throwing strikes, I've been able to get good outs in good situations," Moran said. "I need to keep throwing strikes. I know if I'm able to throw the changeup for a strike, it can be a good pitch."
Duran has a good pitch, too. And that good pitch is even more spectacular after a few days of rest.
Manager Rocco Baldelli brought in his closer with one out in the ninth inning because Duran had not worked since Saturday.
Duran hit 103 mph on the radar. Then 104. Then 104.6.
"You look up at the [score]board and you're wondering, is the board right?" said bench coach Jayce Tingler. "I guess in some ways it's not surprising, knowing what type of arm he has."
Officially, his pitch clocked at 104.6 was the fastest by a Twins pitcher in the Statcast Era (since 2015) and the eighth-fastest in MLB in that time frame.
Asked what he believes his velocity threshold might be, Duran said, "I don't know yet."