MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The pitching staff carried the load for the Minnesota Twins last year to win a second straight division title, despite a sharp decline in production by the offense during the pandemic-shortened schedule.
Most of these pitchers will once again be in prove-it mode for the Twins this season.
“I have no doubt that our guys will step up and take care of whatever it is we will ask them to,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We have the depth. We have the ability. Now we have to go out there and stick to the plan, keep our guys as healthy as possible and watch them go.”
The list begins with right-hander José Berríos, the two-time All-Star who has been on the cusp of becoming an unquestionable ace for several years but still has plenty of room for progress entering his sixth major league season.
Berríos, who has a cumulative 3.82 ERA over the last four years with 604 strikeouts in 601 1/3 innings, has one more round of salary arbitration eligibility before he can become a free agent after the 2022 season. To hear the 26-year-old tell it, he’s not going to hit the open market.
“I don’t wake up and think about when I’m going to sign, but yeah, for sure, that’s going to be special for me and my family,” Berríos said Friday on a video conference call with reporters, confirming conversations are continuing between his camp and the club about a long-term contract.
When he arrived earlier this week at the team’s spring training complex in Fort Myers, Florida, Berríos took time to reflect on the elevation of his status — and his expectations.
“I’m still young, but with more experience, so I feel more relaxed and more comfortable, and also I’ve got 115 outings to build on,” said Berríos, accurately citing his career starts total. “So I’ve got that in my pocket to know who I am and where we’re going. I feel better. I feel a little bit more relaxed, and now I know a little more of what I have to do to get it to the next level.”
The Twins are still banking on that.
“Jose’s got that look in his eye,” pitching coach Wes Johnson said. “I think he’s on a mission. We’ll see. He’s got to go out and do it, and he’s not scared to go out and try.”
Kenta Maeda, after a second-place finish in the AL Cy Young Award voting, has the surest place on the staff as the only Twins pitcher with a contract guaranteed beyond 2021. Even he, though, comes with questions this year about an ability to increase his innings total.
Michael Pineda has been set back by knee trouble and a diuretic suspension since joining the Twins. J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker are experienced starters here on one-year fliers. The prospects who’ll push them for rotation spots and fill in for injuries, Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe, are each seeking a breakthrough after bits and pieces of success over the last two seasons.
“We have a lot of options, and the odds are that we are going have to turn to all these guys. It’s great knowing we have guys that are not only talented and possess a ton of ability but also are going to serve in different roles,” Baldelli said after the first workout for pitchers and catchers.
The Twins brought in Alex Colomé and Hansel Robles for late-inning outs with Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey, but four key relievers from 2020 — Sergio Romo, Trevor May, Tyler Clippard and Matt Wisler — all departed as free agents. There’s an option on Colomé’s contract that can be exercised for 2022, the only semblance of certainty beyond this year for the bullpen. Otherwise, returners like Jorge Alcala, Edwar Colina, Cody Stashak and Caleb Thielbar will be asked to do more.
“I like the group. I like where they all are mentally. They’re all hungry and ready to go, and I think we’re going to have a very competitive camp,” Johnson said.
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