Tonkin escapes jam in big league debut

Tonkin escapes jam in big league debut

Tonkin escapes jam in big league debut

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."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.