Giolito’s rocky Guards debut sets stage for utility man’s 4 (!) relief innings

2:53 AM UTC

CLEVELAND — The opportunity was there for the Guardians to set the tone.

They had their new pitcher, Lucas Giolito, whom they claimed off waivers from the Angels last week to try to make one last push in this division race. At the Trade Deadline, it looked all but certain the Twins would run away with the AL Central. But after Cleveland went into Minnesota just a few days ago and took two of three games, the Guardians had no choice but to try to make a run.

The series opener at Progressive Field on Monday night did the opposite of igniting the division race, instead ending in a whopping 20-6 Guardians loss that forced a position player to toe the rubber as early as the sixth inning after Giolito turned in the worst debut for a Clevelander since 2009. The Guardians now trail the Twins by six games in the AL Central.

o Games remaining: vs. MIN (2), at LAA (3), at SF (3), vs. TEX (3), at KC (3), vs. BAL (4), vs. CIN (2), at DET (3)o Standings update: The Guardians trail the Twins by 6 games for the AL Central title. They are 10 1/2 games behind the Rangers for the third and final AL Wild Card spot.

Utility man David Fry saved the Guardians’ bullpen for the final two games of this critical series by tossing 64 pitches in four innings — the most by a non-primary Cleveland pitcher since right fielder Milt Galatzer on Aug. 26, 1936.

“I don’t care who you are, nobody wants to go out and just get their brains beat out,” manager Terry Francona said. “But he’s strong enough mentally to just not overdo it and he won’t hurt himself. And now, hopefully, we have a chance to win tomorrow. And if we do, he sucked up a bunch of innings for us.”

Fry was down in the batting cages in the fifth inning, taking some swings when center fielder Myles Straw came down to inform Fry that he was about to pitch.

“As soon as I got in the dugout, Tito went out to go get [Enyel De Los Santos] and I was like, ‘All right, I guess I’m in,'” said Fry.

The Guardians were in desperation mode at that point. De Los Santos had given up two runs in the fifth to create a 10-run deficit for Cleveland. They had just watched Giolito tie his career high by giving up nine earned runs in just three innings, marking the first time a Cleveland pitcher gave up at least nine earned runs in a debut with the club since Carl Pavano on April 9, 2009.

He’s also the first pitcher to allow at least eight runs in a game for three different MLB teams in the same season since Bill Magee did so in 1899 for the Louisville Colonels, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Senators, according to OptaSTATS.

“I felt bad. I told him I didn’t like leaving him out there as long as I did,” Francona said. “But I just didn’t know how we were going to get through the game.”

Giolito’s night ended after three frames, with a line of seven hits, three walks, three strikeouts, three homers — including a grand slam by Royce Lewis — and a wild pitch. And following a scoreless fourth inning by Sam Hentges, De Los Santos was pulled with none out in the six after giving up two runs.

Since the Guardians were trailing by at least eight runs, they were able to turn to a position player to save the bullpen from wasting any more pitches on a game that was well out of reach. So, Francona called on Fry to make his second career pitching appearance.

The goal for Fry wasn’t to keep the Twins off the board. The insurmountable damage had already been done. Fry was needed to try to eat up four innings — a daunting task for any reliever, let alone a position player — without getting hurt to save the bullpen.

“We’re trying to save them,” Fry said. “Who cares what I do?”

Fry gave up seven runs on 10 hits, including three homers. He threw 64 pitches, which was the second most by a non-pitcher since pitch counts were tracked (1988), trailing Jose Oquendo’s 65 on May 14, 1988. Velocity-wise, Fry averaged in the mid-50s.

This was far from the result the Guardians wanted in their pivotal series opener, but if they can come back and win the next two contests to remain within four games of the first-place Twins, it will be Fry who deserves all the praise.

“Obviously, we want to still go out and win this series,” Fry said. “I think we only threw two other bullpen guys tonight, so hopefully free up the guys to throw the rest of the series and kind of stay in this thing.”