Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
Ten years. Two hundred ninety-two games. One thousand ninety-three and two-thirds innings. That’s how long Yohan Pino had to slog his way through the minor leagues before finally getting his shot at the big leagues.
And, in an ironic twist few sports other than baseball could provide, he had to wait an extra two hours on Thursday night thanks to a steady rain that delayed the start of the Twins vs. White Sox until 9:16 p.m.
It was a long, winding road for Pino.
Born on Dec. 26, 1983, in Turmero, Aragua, Venezuela, he was signed by the Twins as a minor-league free agent out of the Venezuelan Winter League on May 12, 2004. He began what looked like a steady march through the minors in 2005 in Elizabethton, advancing to Beloit in 2006, Fort Meyers and even Double-A New Britain in 2007.
He spent all of 2008 with the Rock Cats before getting promoted to Triple-A Rochester during the 2009 season, agonizingly close to the big leagues.
But after just eight games with the Red Wings, he found himself traded to the Cleveland Indians organization and spent the rest of the 2009 season in Columbus, OH.
Hey, if the Twins didn’t have room for him in The Show, maybe Cleveland did?
Except something in Columbus didn’t agree with Yohan and his numbers went in the wrong direction. That got him traded to the Toronto Blue Jays organization in 2011 where he bounced around from Triple-A Las Vegas to Double-A New Hampshire.
After finishing the 2012 season in Vegas, Pino moved on to the Reds organization where he hoped to finally get his shot.
He started 2013 in Double-A Pensacola and managed to work his way up to Triple-A Louisville to finish the season but still couldn’t find his way to the majors.
Which brought him back to where it all began, as he signed with the Twins organization for 2014 and began the year back in Rochester.
Did he think he’d ever make it to the majors?
“At times I found it difficult to think I might get here, but I kept on working hard,” Pino said.
All he’d done so far this season in Triple-A was go 9-1, with a 1.92 ERA, an 0.934 WHIP, a 3.81 K/BB and 9.0 strikeout rate.
Eventually, those numbers became too good to ignore, and when the Twins decided to take Samuel Deduno out of the rotation, Pino – at 30 years, 175 days – became the oldest Minnesota Twin to make his Major League debut.
It just took a couple of extra hours to make it happen.
After the rain finally let up in Minnesota, and the Twins took the field against Chicago. Pino promptly struck out the first two batters he faced, Adam Eaton and Gordon Beckham, on five pitches each. A Conor Gillaspie ground-out gave Pino his first big-league 1-2-3 inning. An unsurprising start since he’d gone 1-2-3 in the first in each of his seven starts in Rochester.
Pino wasn’t overpowering. His fastball sat in the upper-80’s, touching 90 once in a while. He mixed in a mid-70’s curveball and an 80-ish mph changeup to keep White Sox hitters off-balance.
Catcher Kurt Suzuki was asked about catching Pino for the first time in his career.
“It helps when the guy hits every single spot you go to. It was nice,” Suzuki said.
Chicago small-balled their way to a couple of runs off him in the third, but that was all the offense they could muster off Pino.
His final line: 7IP, 5H, 2ER, 1BB, 7K, 94 pitches, 68 strikes.
If you’d offered the Twins those numbers before the game, they’d have taken them gladly.
“They’ve got some pretty good hitters over there and he held them down pretty good. That’s fun to watch. He gave us a great opportunity to win a ballgame,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.
And though he didn’t factor in the decision, the Twins still got a win in Pino’s debut, as they scored two in the eighth on the way to a 4-2 win over Chicago.
After the game, he was all smiles when asked what he’ll do with the game ball.
“I’m going to get it signed by the whole team and save it for my family,” Pino said.
Given how long he waited to get to the big leagues, it’s a memento well-earned.