ST. PETERSBURG -- Most people could come up with a few words to describe the feeling of facing Rays third baseman Evan Longoria with two outs and runners on first and second. Challenging, sure. Intimidating, maybe.
How about Michael Tonkin, making his Major League debut in that spot?
"That was nice," the 25-year-old right-hander said.
Tonkin struck out Longoria to end the inning, so he could call it whatever he wants. But ... nice?
"It was pretty exciting. It was the kind of situation you want to be in, I guess," he said. "You want the tough ones, so it's pretty cool."
As was Tonkin's Major League debut on Thursday afternoon -- 1 1/3 perfect innings in the Twins' 4-3 loss to the Rays. He made it to Tampa Bay on Wednesday around 6 p.m. ET, just in time to watch Minnesota's 13-inning marathon loss that all but guaranteed he'd be making his Major League debut on his first day with the Twins.
"A little jittery, I guess, so that didn't help me any," Tonkin said when asked about his emotions. "But other than that, I felt fine."
Tonkin watched Wednesday's 4-3 loss from the team's hotel, but he made it to the visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field on Thursday morning. It has been a "busy" two days since Tonkin first heard from Triple-A Rochester manager Gene Glynn that reliever Caleb Thielbar was headed to the bereavement list and he'd be filling the lefty's spot.
Glynn called Tonkin in for a meeting following the Red Wings' 8-7 loss to Scanton/Wilkes-Barre, and those meetings, Tonkin said, usually aren't good news. This one was just the opposite, of course, as it brought Tonkin to the Majors. He'd gone from being stuck in Rookie ball and Class A Beloit from 2008-12 to suddenly standing in a big league clubhouse.
"It's a little crazy. I guess I didn't really expect it," Tonkin said. "I spent those couple years in Beloit, it kind of seemed like it was going slow. And then next thing you know, 13 months later, I'm here. It definitely seemed slow at first, then caught up pretty quick."
Tonkin's parents made it to Tropicana Field to see their son on his first day in the Majors. He admitted it had crossed his mind -- especially when he was seemingly stuck in Beloit -- that he might never make it to this level. But everything eventually came together for Tonkin, especially once he learned to throw his slider for strikes, use it more often and harness it as an out pitch.
"I definitely kept the hope alive and tried to get out of there," Tonkin said. "Once I got out of there, it kind of seemed to flow from then on."
Assistant general manager Rob Antony said Tuesday that Tonkin, the Twins' No. 20 prospect, is not necessarily in the Majors just for the three days Thielbar will spend on the bereavement list. Antony said Tonkin was told as much, too: If he pitches well, he could be with the Twins to stay.
"It's obviously a huge opportunity. Regardless of what happens, it is what it is," Tonkin said. "It's an opportunity, and I've just got to take it for what it's worth."
Lack of deep starts proving taxing to bullpen
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Twins had already been in need of a few lengthy starts heading into the All-Star break. Wednesday night's bullpen-draining 13-inning marathon only exacerbated the situation.
Minnesota relievers combined to allow only one run over 7 1/3 innings in the 4-3 loss to the Rays, an impressive figure that showcased two trends: They're pitching well, but they're pitching too much.
"We really need to get into the sixth or seventh inning with our starter," manager Ron Gardenhire said Wednesday night. "I know they're trying, but we keep not making it through the sixth, and it's just too many innings."
Minnesota hasn't had a seven-inning start since Samuel Deduno tossed seven innings against the Royals on June 27. In 88 games, the Twins have had a starter get through the sixth 40 times. They've had 12 starts between seven and eight innings, one full eight-inning start (by Kevin Correia, on April 28) and no complete games.
The club's starters have worked a Major League-low 477 2/3 innings, pitching to a 5.35 ERA that also ranks last in the Majors. The bullpen, conversely, entered Thursday's series finale at Tropicana Field with a collective 3.20 ERA, ninth best in the Majors and fifth in the American League, while pitching 306 2/3 innings in 88 games, third most in the AL and seventh in the Majors.
• Justin Morneau was out of Thursday's starting lineup as Gardenhire continued to shuffle players around. Brian Dozier was back in the leadoff spot, followed by Jamey Carroll and Joe Mauer, with Trevor Plouffe batting cleanup as the designated hitter. Chris Parmelee started at first base with Morneau sitting.
• On Wednesday night, Morneau picked up the 1,276th hit of his career, which tied Gary Gaetti for seventh on the Twins' all-time list.
• While the Twins haven't had much success offensively this series, Mauer has continued his assault upon the Rays' pitching staff. The All-Star catcher entered Thursday a .375 (63-for-168) career hitter against Tampa Bay, the highest in baseball among active players. Mauer has been even better here at Tropicana Field, hitting .422 (38-for-90) in 23 career games in St. Petersburg, also the highest among active players.
• Chris Colabello was named the Topps International League Player of the Month for June after hitting .362 with eight homers and 26 RBIs for Triple-A Rochester. He led the league with a .451 on-base percentage and a 1.111 OPS while hitting safely in 20 of 25 games last month.