MINNEAPOLIS - It's debatable which is the more impressive feat: That Twins reliever Trevor Hildenberger has allowed just six home runs in nearly 200 professional innings or the fact he can recall each of those instances in vivid detail.
"Let's see," the Cal-Berkeley product said before launching into the recitation.
Starting in 2014, shortly after the Twins took him in the 22nd round, he has been victimized by Ronald Soto, a Gulf Coast League catcher in the Baltimore Orioles system; Bubba Starling, a Kansas City Royals outfield prospect in the Arizona Fall League (2015); Ronnie Freeman, a Double-A catcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks (2016); twice by Phillip Ervin, an outfielder in the Cincinnati Reds system who got him at the top two minor-league levels (2016-17); and finally, on Sunday, by Detroit Tigers' shortstop and No. 9 hitter Jose Iglesias.
Iglesias has just two other homers this year and 13 total for his six big-league seasons. He jumped on a first-pitch fastball from Hildenberger at 87 mph, adding his name to an exclusive list and one the cerebral side-armer has every intention of keeping exclusive.
"I try to keep the ball down in the zone," he said. "I take a lot of pride in keeping the ball in the ballpark, and also forcing contact - try to get ground balls as much as I can, let my defense work. That's my track record, and I hope to continue that."
Since making his big-league debut June 23 in Cleveland, Hildenberger has survived the revolving-door nature of the Twins' bullpen and showed he may have more staying power than his modest draft status suggests.
As the Twins return to the Bay Area for a weekend series with the Oakland A's, Hildenberger has a 3.52 earned-run average in 11 outings. In 15 1/3 innings, he has allowed 14 hits and three walks while striking out 14.
While most righty side-armers struggle against left-handed batters, Hildenberger actually has better numbers (.208 on-base percentage in 24 plate appearances) against opposite-handed hitters than he does against righties (.350 OBP in 40 trips).
It was the opposite this season at Triple-A Rochester, where lefties reached base at a .340 clip against him, compared to just .256 for righties. Armed with a changeup he can throw to both righties and lefties, Hildenberger also has the rare ability to change his arm angle when he wants a little more on his fastball, which can run in the low 90s from that higher slot.
He'll also change his angle when he wants to work inside to lefties, who admittedly see him better from the lower release point.
"He's pitched really well in every situation I've used him," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "I think his confidence is growing. Obviously ours is in him. He's not vanilla."
As he passes each test, Hildenberger seems to climb a little higher in the pecking order, earning Molitor's trust in higher-leverage situations. While the Colorado Rockies just traded for ex-Twins submariner Pat Neshek and the Toronto Blue Jays are marketing veteran side-armer Joe Smith, the Twins may have found a minimum-salaried rookie to provide the same look.
At 26, Hildenberger is the lowest-round investment the Twins have drafted and developed to reach the majors since reliever A.J. Achter was taken out of Michigan State in the 46th round in 2010.
"The way our bullpen is right now, there aren't a lot of specific roles," Molitor said. "We're looking to try to use what we have the best way we can. For (Hildenberger) to get higher-leverage situations is certainly not out of the question. He's probably a candidate to do some of that if the day is right and he's fresh and ready to go."
After striking out Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera in succession with a runner on base Sunday against the Detroit Tigers, Hildenberger sounded hungry for more such tests.
"Some of the situations I'm getting put in now, I feel like I've gained a little bit of trust," he said. "Hopefully that continues. Hopefully I can string together a couple of good outings and a few more zeros and gain that trust back. I'm gaining confidence in myself every time I go out there."
It was former Oakland A's reliever Mike Neu who first suggested Hildenberger turn himself into a side-armer. It happened after Hildenberger got on the field for 12 total innings his first three years on campus. Then Cal's pitching coach (and now the Bears' head coach), Neu walked out to supervise a bullpen session in the early summer of 2012.
"A kid wore the wrong practice jersey out, and he was throwing a bullpen," Hildenberger recalled. "I was waiting for a bullpen. Mike said, 'Oh, I look at 37, I don't see a pitcher, I see a corner outfielder.' I was No. 26. I said, 'What do you see when you see 26?' "
Neu noted Pac-12 rivals UCLA and Washington had side-armers who wore No. 26 and asked Hildenberger if he'd ever tried it.
"I'd messed around with it playing catch and, when I used to play infield, throwing across the diamond, but never off a mound," Hildenberger recalled. "Mike was like, 'All right. Let's try it.' I threw that way in the bullpen, and it felt good. I was able to throw strikes. He was like, 'All right, that's how you throw now.' "
Hildenberger, who graduated with a degree in film, went on to lead the Pac-12 in saves as a senior, prompting the Twins to take a late-round flier on him along with another multi-syllabic Bears pitcher. Lefty reliever Mike Theofanopoulos, a 30th-rounder in 2014, is at Class A Fort Myers for the second straight year.
Hildenberger's career strikeout/walk rate is better than 9/1 if you subtract the four intentional walks he's issued out of 29 total. He remains eternally grateful to Neu.
"I take a lot of pride in pounding the zone and throwing strikes," Hildenberger said. "Mike is the guy that taught me, even in a 3-2 count, you throw a fastball in the zone. Even the best hitters, even if they hit .600, you have a 40-percent chance of getting them out. If you throw a ball, zero. I'd rather take the chance of them putting it in play hard than walking anybody."
Fearless and aggressive to a fault - that's Hildenberger, who had to be shut down last August with tennis elbow but otherwise has proved durable.
"The ability to follow up a first-pitch strike with a second-pitch strike is something I value a lot," he said. "I know I can compete with these guys as long as I execute my pitches. I know my stuff plays up here. I just need to go out and throw strikes."