Yohan Pino helps Twins to win in debut after 10 years in minors
MINNEAPOLIS — Yohan Pino finally made the majors, more than 10 years into his professional career. So what was the harm of a two-hour rain delay?
For Pino and the Minnesota Twins, this was well worth the wait.
Joe Mauer drove in two runs, including the go-ahead double in the eighth inning, to push the Twins past the Chicago White Sox 4-2 on Thursday night after weather delayed Pino’s first major league pitch by 2 hours, 6 minutes.
“What a performance,” Mauer said after the Twins stopped their season-high, five-game losing streak.
Pino, at 30 years and 175 days, had the oldest debut in Twins history. He held the White Sox to two runs in seven innings.
“Just had fun, you know. I waited for 10 years, and I was happy. I don’t feel nervous. I just want to do my job. I feel great today,” Pino said.
Mauer, in the middle of the worst season of his six-time All-Star career, also hit a tying single in the third. The Twins scored five runs in their previous four games.
“We need some of those guys to get going. That’s huge for us,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Pino’s start was even bigger.
He signed with the Twins in May 2004, but after reaching Double-A in July 2007, he bounced up and down between the top two levels of the minors over the following six seasons and pitched for four teams each in Double-A and Triple-A.
Traded to Cleveland in August 2009 for Carl Pavano, Pino played for three organizations until rejoining the Twins this year. When the Twins sent Samuel Deduno to the bullpen, Pino was the pick after posting a 9-1 record and 1.92 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 61 innings for Triple-A Rochester. Two of his seven starts were shutouts.
“At times he found it difficult to get here, but he kept on working hard and, God willing, he got a chance to do it,” Twins bullpen coach Bobby Cuellar said, translating a response from Pino to reporters in Spanish.
Josh Willingham’s home run in the second, the first time in 10 starts that Jose Quintana surrendered a long ball, gave Pino a brief lead. But after a walk loaded the bases in the third, Conor Gillaspie smacked a two-run single into center field.
With Jake Petricka (0-2) pitching with runners at the corners with no outs, Mauer hooked a drive down the left-field line. Kurt Suzuki tacked on a sacrifice fly.
Glen Perkins tossed a scoreless ninth for his 18th save in 20 tries. A bad back kept him from pitching Wednesday in Boston. Casey Fien (4-4), who subbed as the closer Wednesday and gave up two homers in the 10th inning in a 2-1 loss to the Red Sox, returned to the eighth-inning role and earned the victory that really belonged to Pino.
Having gained valuable experience in the Venezuelan winter league, Pino has become good enough at changing speeds and throwing breaking balls for strikes to make up for an average-at-best fastball. Given the length of his journey, the Twins were extra excited to see him take the mound.
“I told him, ‘That was fun to watch. You’ve waited a long time for this moment,'” Gardenhire said.
Suzuki, his catcher, raved about the calm Pino showed, starting in the clubhouse during the long delay.
“His presence on the mound was like he’s actually been up here doing this for a long time,” Suzuki said.
Pino struck out Jose Abreu the first two times he faced the rookie slugger, an accomplishment in its own right. Abreu became the third-fastest to reach 20 home runs when he went deep Wednesday against San Francisco in his 58th career game.
Over the past nine games, Twins starters have a 2.41 ERA. Pino struck out seven and allowed five hits and one walk.
“We don’t know anything about the guy. Give him credit. He pitched pretty well,” Gillaspie said.
Winless in four starts this month, Quintana struck out six in seven innings while allowing six hits and a walk.
“I don’t think he sits there and begs for runs, but I’m sure he’d like some,” manager Robin Ventura said.
*Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Jim Mone