Michael Pineda leads Twins to win in potential last start as a Twin

As Michael Pineda walked off the mound for what could be the last time as a Twin, the noise level at Target Field steadily rose until Pineda tipped his cap, acknowledging the crowd.

Pineda is a free agent at season’s end, and if that was indeed his last start as a Twin, he’ll depart a winner. Pineda gave up one run in 5 2/3 innings as the Twins beat the Tigers 5-2 on Wednesday night at Target Field.

“I hope that’s not the last time we’re going to be taking him out of a ballgame in a Twins’ uniform, but it was definitely a very nice way to end his season,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.

The consistent right-hander navigated his way through traffic throughout the start, giving up eight hits. But he managed to tame the Tigers (75-83), even after taking a hard comebacker to his leg.

While Detroit starter Casey Mize gave up three runs in the first inning — Luis Arraez and Byron Buxton led off the game with a pair of singles before Jorge Polanco hit a three-run home run — he eventually settled in, retiring the last seven batters he faced. The Twins later tacked on two runs in the eighth inning to make a winner of Pineda, who turned in a start that looked like so many of the solid outings the Twins (71-87) have seen from him in the previous three years.

Pineda originally signed with the Twins ahead of the 2018 season, which he missed entirely as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery and then dealt with a knee injury. The right-hander was pitching well during the second half of the 2019 season before receiving an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a banned diuretic.

Though Pineda missed the postseason, the Twins stuck with him, inking him to another two-year deal ahead of last season. While the suspension combined with the truncated season wiped out most of his 2020 season, Pineda responded by posting a 3.62 earned-run average in 22 games — 21 starts — in 2021.

He finished his season by winning all five of the games he pitched in the month of September.

Away from the field, he’s also had an immeasurable impact on the Twins off the field, becoming “a pillar,” in the Twins’ clubhouse, Baldelli said.

“You better believe when you’re walking in and out of (the clubhouse), you’re going to see Big Mike,” Baldelli said. “He’s been about as important of a member of this group over the last three years as anyone. He’s been a constant, his performance has been a constant, his leadership has been a constant.”

The Twins enter this offseason in need of starting pitching, and Pineda has often spoke of how much he has enjoyed his time in Minnesota with the Twins.

Could he be back?

His manager hopes so, and Pineda struck a similar tone during his postgame Zoom.

“I’d be happy. I’d be happy. I love the city and I love everybody here,” Pineda said. ” … I think we have a really good group, and if I got the opportunity to be back, I’d be happy.”

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