Former Eastern Alamance High star pitcher Zack Littell has made the most of his opportunity this summer to help the Minnesota Twins as they seek to rise to the top of the American League’s Central Division.
Littell, who made his Major League debut last summer with the Twins, returned to Minnesota in late May, making his first MLB appearance of the 2019 season by pitching two hitless innings against the Chicago White Sox May 24. Littell’s second appearance came on May 30, as he gave up eight runs and 10 hits in 4.1 innings of work as the Twins were crushed, 14-3, by the Tampa Bay Rays on the road.
But ever since that dreadful night in Tampa, Littell has been one of the more effective relief pitchers in all of baseball.
In 17 appearances and 18.2 innings over a two-month stretch between June 18 and August 18, Littell only allowed two earned runs. Both runs came in a game in Minnesota against the Oakland Athletics on July 20, when Littell allowed back-to-back seventh inning home runs to Mark Canha and Ramon Laureano in a 5-4 Twins loss.
Over his next six appearances following the back-to-back homers against Oakland, Littell gave up no runs and struck out six batters with only one walk in seven innings. Pitching against the Athletics, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, and Texas Rangers over that particular stretch from July 21 to August 18, Littell gave up just four hits.
Littell has been effective in the Major Leagues in large part because he has displayed excellent control, walking just six batters with 17 strikeouts over his last 17 trips to the mound. While opposing teams have gotten 24 hits against Littell in 25 innings this season, 10 of those hits came in the Tampa game when he allowed eight earned runs. Littell has produced eight hitless appearances in 2019 thus far, and has gotten key outs when he has needed to get them.
Heading into a home series in Minneapolis this week against the White Sox, the Twins held a 76-48 record and a 2.5 game lead over the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central Division standings. With the way Littell has been pitching, he figures to be a key component of the Minnesota bullpen as they seek to win the franchise’s first American League championship and World Series titles since 1991.