BOSTON — It’s already been a tough stretch of health for these Twins — and the issues only compounded on Saturday, when starting pitcher Sonny Gray became the latest member of the team bitten by the injury bug.
Gray was pulled with right hamstring tightness in the second inning of the Twins’ 4-0 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park after he felt a grab in the area on his final two pitches to Bobby Dalbec. The Twins won’t know the severity of the situation until they see how the hamstring responds on Sunday morning, but they didn’t make an immediate roster move, and manager Rocco Baldelli was cautiously optimistic following the game.
“It doesn’t look to be something severe, but it’s something we’re going to assess,” Baldelli said.
In the last five days, the Twins have placed Jorge Alcala (right elbow inflammation) and Alex Kirilloff (right wrist inflammation) on the 10-day injured list, while Byron Buxton (right knee soreness) and now Gray have been pulled from games due to injuries.
“When I went to drive and push, it kind of just went limp and kind of gave out a little bit more,” Gray said. “I was like, ‘I need to just rip a fastball to see what happens.’ And then probably a good thing that it didn’t get to that point.”
Fortunately for Baldelli and the Twins, they’re well-prepared for the loss of a starting pitcher — and the remainder of Saturday’s game showed exactly how.
Even after Gray’s exit, the Twins had another fully stretched-out starting pitcher available out of the bullpen because they opened the regular season with seven on the roster — six in the rotation, one in the ‘pen. That played to their advantage when rookie right-hander Josh Winder, the club’s No. 7 prospect, entered cold and threw 5 1/3 innings of relief in his second big league appearance, helping prevent a disruption to either the relief corps or the rotation order.
Winder had ramped up for the season on a normal starter’s schedule alongside the members of the Twins’ rotation, and he only threw one inning in his MLB debut against the Dodgers on Tuesday, leaving him in position to throw 66 pitches and get the Twins through the seventh. Minnesota only needed three pitchers in the game.
“That was a huge pickup job by him for us,” Baldelli said. “He went out there and basically gave us a full start out of the bullpen. We lost our starter in the second inning and we had a chance to win the game.”
Though Winder allowed a towering two-run blast to Xander Bogaerts in the third inning that caromed off one of the advertisements above the Green Monster, he allowed only two hits in his final four frames while striking out two and walking one. No runner reached third base following that homer, even though the 25-year-old right-hander couldn’t remember the last time he’d entered a game in that capacity.
“I felt way more comfortable,” Winder said. “A lot more comfortable. I felt a lot more like myself out there. It could just be the extended outing. I really like making adjustments inning to inning. It’s kind of what I’m used to, being a starter for so long. Still getting used to hearing my name called and kind of that adrenaline boost immediately when I know I’m going into the game.”
Whatever Sunday morning holds for Gray, the Twins have paths forward, in large part thanks to that sort of adaptability from Winder.
Firstly, the six-man rotation gives every pitcher an extra day to recover from this sort of thing if needed. If Gray ultimately does require an IL stint, the Twins can either slide back to a more conventional five-man rotation with Winder again held in reserve for a long-relief situation like this or simply insert Winder in the veteran’s slot — especially since Winder is now synchronized with Gray’s schedule after this outing.
They can make it work for now.
“I think we’re going to be able to move forward in one way, shape or form and not have to make any large-scale maneuvers here,” Baldelli said. “We did have seven starters to start the season. You anticipate things happening. You don’t know what they’re going to be, but you have to be prepared for these things, especially in a year like this.
“We’re going to need all seven of those guys, and more guys as the season goes on.”