Much of the discussion of Erik Johnson‘s first two major league starts have centered around his control problems. “He struggled to throw strikes,” is a description that was thrown out, or even “he couldn’t throw strikes.” While hyperbole is useful for communicating ideas quickly, it’s complicated when someone like Twins starter Liam Hendriks comes along and just fails to throw strike of any useful kind, opening up the floodgates for an absurd 12-1 win.
Hendriks fell behind hitters frequently, and when he started out ahead of hitters in the count, he quickly turned the tables on himself. When he needed to throw a strike, he split the plate with a mediocre 91 mph fastball that every member of the White Sox lineup save for Bryan Anderson pushed around where he pleased.
Alejandro De Aza singled. Alexei Ramirez walked. Conor Gillaspie pushed a single to left field. Paul Konerko grounded a single to right field. Adam Dunn blasted a ball that Alex Presley leapt and caught at the wall for the first out of the inning. Dayan Viciedo jammed himself for another grounder through the right field hole. Jordan Danks walked. Gordon Beckham lined a bullet back up the middle for another single. Bryan Anderson popped up, invoking the infield fly rule, of course. De Aza stepped to the plate yet again, and walked.
It was then, that Twins managers Ron Gardenhire had seen enough from his starter. Michael Tonkin would come in and allow a two-run single to Ramirez to score two of his inherited runs, wrapping up Hendriks’ night with 0.2 innings pitched, five hits, three walks and seven earned runs.
And only after Hendriks departed, did the White Sox start hitting home runs.
Erik Johnson actually had something of a shaky first inning himself, walking two and throwing over 30 pitches, but something about being seven runs ahead (and more) suited him. He spent the evening running up the ladder with high fastballs on a dilapidated Twins lineup, striking out eight over six innings, with the only free pass he allowed coming when he plunked Chris Parmalee with two outs in the sixth. He quickly followed it up by playing himself off with his second strikeout of Josmil Pinto on the night.
As much as the six innings of shutout ball was a welcome sight from the embattled rookie, the lineup wasn’t about to set aside their rare generous mood due to lack of need. Cole DeVries was sent in to soak up innings in the wake of Hendriks’ disaster, and allowed a titanic solo shot down the right field line to Adam Dunn in the bottom of the fourth, and was barely done thrashing in anger by the time an opposite-field bullet from Dayan Viciedo was leaving the park in the very next at-bat. While DeVries escaped a two-run bomb from Jordan Danks in the second inning when the umpires ruled a ball that skipped off the top of the wall and back in was a double, Danks righted the dubious decision by ripping a two-run no-doubter off DeVries in the sixth.
To cap off the ridiculousness of the evening, Ramirez took Caleb Thielbar out to dead center field in the seventh for his fifth home run of the season, but his fourth against the Twins, displaying the kind of power that hasn’t been seen since…ever.
In mid-September, it goes without saying that it’s all a bit of a blip, a perfect storm of Liam Hendriks’ inescapable mediocrity, a rundown Twins lineup and the inevitable bounceback of a lineup that has raw power if nothing else, but any escape from 2013 is a welcome one.
Team Record: 59-91
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