MINNEAPOLIS — When Twins manager Paul Molitor starts walking toward the pitcher’s mound, it doesn’t always indicate that a pitching change is coming.
Sometimes Molitor will indeed lift the pitcher from the game and signal to Minnesota’s bullpen. Other times, though, Molitor simply wants to talk defensive strategy or see how a pitcher is feeling before making his decision.
In Tuesday’s game against the White Sox, the latter was the case when Molitor came to talk to starter Mike Pelfrey with two outs in the seventh inning. Pelfrey had allowed two runs but was one out from exiting with the game tied. Instead, he stayed in the game and gave up what proved to be the winning run in the Twins’ 6-2 loss to Chicago.
"When he’s initially coming out, you don’t always know," Pelfrey said of Molitor’s mound visits. "I didn’t know if he was going to take me out. He asked me how I felt and I told him I felt good. The last couple times he’s done that I’ve been able to get out of it. I appreciate the faith. I just didn’t come through today."
The visit from Molitor came after Pelfrey fell behind Adam LaRoche on a 3-0 count, worked the count full and eventually walked LaRoche. The next batter, Melky Cabrera, had doubled off Pelfrey to lead off the sixth but also struck out twice earlier in the game.
Pelfrey had easily recorded the first two outs of the seventh inning before Jose Abreu collected his third hit of the game, a single to right. That was followed by the walk to LaRoche, but Molitor still had confidence in Pelfrey to get out of the inning against Cabrera.
"His pitch count was climbing, but I’m not too concerned. I think he can handle that workload fairly easily," Molitor said. "I just asked him how he was doing and he said, ‘Still good.’ I said, ‘Let’s get this guy out and try to get you a win.’ It didn’t work out that way."
Minnesota had previously jumped out to a 1-0 lead and a 2-1 lead off White Sox right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who was 4-4 with a 4.67 ERA entering Tuesday’s game. Yet, when handed a pair of one-run leads, Pelfrey wasn’t able to shut down a Chicago team that scored just two runs in Minnesota’s 13-2 victory one day earlier.
Pelfrey gave up the first lead in the fourth inning after a double by Conor Gillaspie and an RBI single by Geovany Soto. Two innings later, it was Soto again tying the game with a single, this time scoring Cabrera after his leadoff double.
"To get a 1-0 lead and give that back and they gave me another lead, 2-1, and I wasn’t able to hold it, that’s the frustrating part," Pelfrey said. "I knew coming in that it was going to be tough with (Samardzija) on the mound and how good he is. He outpitched me. That’s the story right there. He was good. I gave some leads back, which is frustrating. That’s the way it goes."
The Twins believed Pelfrey — who was hit with just his fourth loss of the season as his ERA rose to 3.06 – could perhaps wriggle out of a jam in the seventh, but the mound visit and the ensuing at-bat didn’t prove that fruitful, as Cabrera lined a 1-0 pitch to center field to score Abreu. Minnesota’s bullpen proceeded to give up three more runs, which were ultimately inconsequential as the Twins’ offense couldn’t scratch across anything against Samardzija or Chicago’s bullpen after the fourth inning.
Still, the way Pelfrey has pitched this season as one of the Twins’ best starters has afforded him the luxury of being able to convince his manager to keep him in the game. Unfortunately for Pelfrey and the Twins, the eventual winning run happened to cross the plate that inning.
"I like honest answers. He was confident about how he was doing," Molitor said. "I had a good feeling he was going to be able to get a ground ball. We were just hoping it was where we could make a play. . . . For me, they hit the ball in the right place in that inning and it didn’t work out."