MINNEAPOLIS — Yohan Pino waited a decade to make his major-league debut. After all that, waiting two more hours for a rain delay was nothing.
Pino, at 30 years, 175 days old, became the oldest starting pitcher in Twins history to make his major-league debut. Thursday’s start for Minnesota came after 10 seasons, 292 games and 1,093 2/3 innings in the minor leagues.
When he took the mound Thursday against Chicago, Pino achieved his dream of being a big-league ballplayer — and he helped his team earn a win in the process. Though he didn’t get the victory, Pino allowed just two runs in seven innings while striking out seven as Minnesota topped the White Sox 4-2 in the series opener.
The journey to the majors was a long one for the Venezuela native, but the payoff was worth it in the end.
"I waited 10 years," Pino said after the game. "I was happy. I don’t feel nervous. I just want to do my job. I feel great today."
Pino’s debut got off to a strong start — but not until both teams had to sit through a two-hour, six-minute rain delay. When Pino’s first pitch was finally thrown at 9:16 p.m. CT, he was officially a big-league pitcher.
Although he lacks overpowering stuff, Pino was able to strike out Adam Eaton and Gordon Beckham for the first two outs of the game. His fastball rarely topped 90 mph the entire night, but the longtime minor-league veteran was crafty, using his curveball effectively against a powerful Chicago lineup.
"He had a good breaking ball. He pitched his fastball to both sides of the plate," said Kurt Suzuki, who caught Pino for the first time ever in Thursday’s game. "He moved the ball around, threw some changeups. He really didn’t fall into a pattern and he attacked guys. He really didn’t nibble around the plate. He just went after them."
Pino struck out White Sox slugger Jose Abreu to lead off the second and then worked around a two-out double by inducing a fly out off the bat of Dayan Viciedo to end the inning. Pino ran into trouble in the third, walking Gordon Beckham to load the bases with one out. Conor Gillaspie then singled to center to drive in a pair, Pino’s first runs allowed in the majors.
But Pino once again struck Abreu out, this time to end the inning. From there on out, the Twins right-hander was on cruise control, allowing just one more hit over the next four innings before exiting with the game tied 2-2. His seven strikeouts were the second-most by a Twins pitcher in his MLB debut; only Boof Bonser (eight strikeouts) had more.
"I told him that was fun to watch," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "I told him, ‘You’ve waited a long time for that moment. That’s a really, really nice job. That was fun to watch. Congratulations. Now hopefully we’ll get a win here and we can all be smiling with you at the end of the game,’ which was fantastic."
Pino ultimately earned a no-decision in his MLB debut. Twins first baseman Joe Mauer drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth, one inning after Pino’s exit. Suzuki added another run with a sacrifice fly against White Sox reliever Jake Petricka, ensuring that Pino’s debut would come in a victory.
Before Pino was called up by the Twins prior to Thursday’s game, he was 9-1 with an impressive 1.92 ERA in 14 games (seven starts) for Rochester. Two of those seven starts were complete-game shutouts, although one was of the seven-inning variety. He had also struck out 61 batters and walked just 16 in 61 innings.
Simply put, it was too hard for the Twins to ignore the numbers Pino was putting up in Triple-A. Minnesota has a pair of big-time prospects in Alex Meyer and Trevor May pitching in Rochester, but Pino was the one who got the call.
"He was the guy who was pitching the best there and has earned the opportunity," said Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony. "Our pitching staff down there has done very well, but he’s probably the guy that time in and time out, he’s done it. He’s done it in different roles, and he’s earned the opportunity. Let’s find out what he can do."
As it turned out Thursday, Pino can indeed pitch effectively in the major leagues. He just had to wait a decade to prove he could.
"I just wanted to go out and throw the first pitch," Pino said. "I’m just happy today."