'He hung in there': Twins bash Tigers prospect Gregory Soto in debut, split doubleheader

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Minneapolis — They don’t always end up as Hollywood scripts.

Tigers left-handed pitching prospect Gregory Soto is going to have better days, but his big-league debut was a bit of a mess.

Called up from Double-A Erie to fill the 26th roster spot for the second game of the doubleheader Saturday night, Soto was hit and hit hard as the Twins earned a split with a 7-3 win. The Tigers had won the opener 5-3.

Detroit Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones misjudges a hop on a ball hit by Minnesota Twins' C.J. Cron and the ball goes by him during the first inning.

"He did OK," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He wasn't afraid. He made some bad pitches early but he hung in there for a few innings."

The Twins banged out nine hits and scored seven runs off Soto in four-plus innings. They hit seven balls with an exit velocity of over 100 mph, including a screaming three-run home run by C.J. Cron that ended Soto’s night in the fifth.

BOX SCORE: Twins 8, Tigers 3, Game 2

That ball left his bat at 115 mph and got to the seats in left field in 3.5 seconds.

"We were trying to sneak him through five innings," Gardenhire said. "We had (lefty) Nick Ramirez going with him, but it took four or five pitches and he gave up three runs. We wanted to get him out of there, but it happened just that fast."

Cron had four hits and was a triple shy of a cycle. Eddie Rosario also had three hits.

The Tigers would’ve preferred not to jump Soto two organizational rungs to make a spot start against one of the best offensive teams in the American League.

But the pool of starting pitchers has been shrunk considerably. Not only are Michael Fulmer (out for the year), Matt Moore (out for the year) and Jordan Zimmermann on the injured list, but at Triple-A, both Kyle Funkhouser and Beau Burrows have battled through injuries.

Ryan Carpenter has already been plucked from the Mud Hens rotation and is the Tigers fifth starter. Lefty Matt Hall was probably the only other option to make the spot start Saturday.

"I don't know how to explain this, but as soon as I threw my first pitch, all the nerves ran away," Soto said through interpreter Carlos Guillen. "I was comfortable and I did my best. I gave four innings to my team. 

"The results were not what I wanted, but I feel really good." 

Soto did have his moments. After Cron doubled to lead off the third, he got six straight outs, four of them on ground balls off his power sinker (93-96 mph). But it took him 30 pitches to get through his first inning and he was at 72 after three.

Of his 88 pitches, he got just three swings and misses.

"I was thinking about my mom and my son," Soto said when asked what he will remember most about his debut. "They arrived late to the ballpark, so I was thinking I had to keep myself in the game so they could see me pitch in the big leagues.

"Fortunately, that happened."

It was the major league debut for Ramirez, too. The 29-year-old converted first baseman allowed six hits over four innings, but the only damage was a solo home run by Marwin Gonzalez. He struck out five.

"He was good," Gardenhire said. "He's got pitch-ability. He's got a great change-up and he spots his fastball decently. He did a really nice job."

Ramirez threw 26 change-ups in the four innings and got nine swings and misses. Only four were put in play, including the home run by Gonzalez.

"It was crazy," he said. "I thought I would be a lot more nervous than I was. I expected to have the feeling that it's really big out there. But then I got out there and the plate looked like it was right in front of me.

"That's a nice feeling."

Detroit Tigers pitcher Gregory Soto tosses a ground ball to first to get out Minnesota Twins' Byron Buxton in the fourth inning.

He was asked what he learned about how his pitches play at this level.

"You can't miss," he said. "You can't miss here. I made some poorly located off-speed pitches and obviously they put some barrels on it. You've got to execute every pitch."

Ramirez's parents, aunts, sister and in-laws all made the trek from northern Orange County, Calif. When Gonzalez hit the home run, his sister told FSD's Johnny Kane, "Welcome to the big leagues."

"I was so happy my parents could be here," Ramirez said. "Having everyone here means the world to me because it's one day I'll never get to do again. Just to have them here, my support group, means more than anything."

This was the first time the Tigers had two pitchers make their big-league debuts in the same game since June 22, 2014 when Pat McCoy and Chad Smith debuted.

"It's a big moment for those two," Gardenhire said. "It's a big opportunity and it's something they won't ever forget, no matter what happened. They gave us everything they had." 

Jeimer Candelario, who had been in a 0-for-21 skid with nine strikeouts and had been held out of the first game, lined a two-run home run to right field in the second inning. It was his second homer of the year.

The Tigers scored again in the third on a double by Christin Stewart and a single by Brandon Dixon, who replaced Miguel Cabrera, who was ejected in the first inning.

Cabrera, the designated hitter, grounded out in his only at-bat, and there was one borderline strike call that went against him.

"He felt the pitch call was wrong and then he didn't call it on their guy," Gardenhire said. "He was pretty fired up."

Cabrera was chirping from the dugout at home plate umpire Chad Whitson as the Twins batted in the bottom of the first. Whitson gave him a little rope, then threw him out.

"I went out there and asked (Whitson), 'Why did you do that?'" said Gardenhire, who had been ejected in the third inning of the first game. "'Why did you throw him out, he's a Hall-of-Famer. Now you've got me down to two players on the bench. See what you did?'"


Twitter: @cmccosky