MINNEAPOLIS — Andre Rienzo avoided the big inning on Thursday night.
He hadn’t been able to pitch around it in the first three starts of his big league career. Unlike those previous efforts, the rookie starting pitcher appeared to be headed toward the first victory of his career until the bullpen lost the lead.
The Minnesota Twins rallied late with a run in each of the last two innings to beat the White Sox, 4-3, at Target Field. Chris Herrmann’s one-out RBI single in the ninth inning sent the White Sox to their second straight loss and 10th in 13 games against the Twins.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Rienzo has shown major league stuff since he joined the team in late July. But Ventura also stressed the need for Rienzo to stay out of big trouble, and the right-hander took that step on Thursday.
“It’s part of leaving him in there to kind of get through that, and he gets the big out in the sixth,” Ventura said. “It’s part of growing up in the game and getting better. It was a good performance. It’s one of those you feel bad for him because he’s pitching pretty good and hasn’t really had anything to show for it. They scratched away and ended up beating you, but the kid pitched good.”
If Rienzo wants to become a full-time starter in the majors, he needs to make his statement now because openings in the White Sox rotation could be limited in the future.
Chris Sale is a fixture and only 24. Jose Quintana, also 24, appears to have removed all question marks about him belonging. The organization is high on Hector Santiago, who turns 26 in December. John Danks, 28, is signed through the 2016 season. And the club’s top pitching prospect, Erik Johnson, is in the midst of a breakout season and on the cusp of reaching the majors.
Rienzo had given away early leads in all three of his starts and earned a no-decision in each. He allowed three earned runs in the fifth inning at Cleveland on July 30th, two in the seventh at Detroit on Aug. 4 and four in the third at home against the Twins on Saturday.
Rienzo could have fallen prey to the big inning twice on Thursday but didn’t.
The right-hander, who came into the season rated the No. 7 prospect in the organization by Baseball America, held firm.
He allowed Minnesota to cut his lead to 3-1 when Trevor Plouffe hit a solo home run to left-center with one out in the fifth inning. But Rienzo stranded a runner when he got Pedro Florimon to ground out to end the inning.
Then in the sixth, Rienzo stepped up again.
Brian Dozier reached base when Alexei Ramirez opened the inning with his 20th error of the season. Rienzo retired Joe Mauer on a comebacker and struck out Justin Morneau with a 91-mph fastball on the outside corner.
Josh Willingham singled in Dozier to reduce the White Sox lead to 3-2. But Rienzo retired Oswaldo Arcia, who homered off him Saturday, on another comebacker to preserve the lead.
Rienzo limited the Twins, who beat him five days earlier, to two runs (one earned) and four hits over six innings. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out two in a 93-pitch effort.
“I tried to give the chance to the team to win,” Rienzo said. “It’s my job. I’m happy with the game. I need to get out quickly. I tried to get out today. It was good and so-so. I got out and got the team a chance to win. (That) was my focus.”
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His bid for a victory was lost in the eighth inning when setup man Nate Jones gave up consecutive hits to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Mauer doubled to left-center, and he scored on Morneau’s single to right, just ahead of a strong throw home from outfielder Avisail Garcia.
Herrmann singled off Ramon Troncoso with one out in the ninth inning to score pinch-runner Doug Bernier.
“No never frustrated,” Rienzo said. “The team tried. I tried. If the team loses, the whole team fails. I believe in the guys and the guys tried hard to get a win.”