FORT MYERS Fla. — Ryne Harper doesn’t turn 30 until Wednesday, March 27.
But Twins manager Rocco Baldelli gave the relief pitcher an early present — perhaps the best he’ll get this year — notifying him that he had earned a spot on the team’s Opening Day roster. Harper, who was been called up briefly once in the past, has yet to make his major league debut.
With Harper’s roster spot solidified, the Twins appear to be rolling with an 11-man pitching staff to begin the year. They will utilize a four-man starting rotation consisting of Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda and Kyle Gibson, in that order, initially.
With the way the schedule is set up, the Twins won’t need a fifth starter immediately so Martin Perez will come in from the bullpen the first couple of weeks. Baldelli said Perez would be available to pitch at any point over the first series, likely coming in and piggybacking a starter.
Addison Reed (thumb) will begin the season on the Injured List. The Twins will leave him back in Fort Myers to get his work in when they head north. Gabriel Moya (shoulder) and Matt Magill (arm) also appear likely to begin on the IL, though both have been making strides.
“They actually have both gotten into their throwing programs and they’ve been progressing well,” Baldelli said. “…I can tell you that they have both come out of this spring in better shape than they were a week or two ago, noticeably, and are throwing.”
The Twins reassigned the other two non-roster pitchers in camp — Preston Guilmet and Mike Morin — to minor league camp after Monday’s game, leaving just Harper as the only other non-roster invite remaining in camp.
Drafted in the 37th round in 2011 by Atlanta, Harper has made 293 minor league appearances. The curveball specialist has a 2.56 career earned-run average with 553 strikeouts. He spent four years in Double-A with the Braves and Mariners organizations.
In 2017, he was briefly called up by Seattle, but was sent down days later before he threw a pitch. That made Monday an extra special day for the eight-year minor league veteran.
“It’s everything I’ve worked for in my career. That’s why I’m still playing,” he said. “I turn 30 in a couple days, and I wouldn’t still be playing if I didn’t think I still had more in the tank to keep going. I feel as good as I’ve always felt, so hopefully I play as long as I can and keep enjoying it.”
This spring, he sports a 0.00 ERA. He threw 11 innings and has struck out 14 and walked none, drawing himself plenty of praise and recognition around camp.
“Honestly, I’ve messed with them my whole life,” he said of his curveball. “Even when I was younger, I didn’t really pitch a ton in high school until my senior year, but I had a good curveball just playing catch in the outfield. …I’ve always been able to control the curveball and I used to change arm slots with it. That was in high school when I was younger. I think that’s kind of helped me command different speeds with it from the same arm slot.”
After a month spent delivering news of roster cuts, telling Harper the good news news was special for Baldelli, too.
“It’s a wonderful feeling, knowing on the other end of the table however special it is for people that get to be in the room for something like that, I know how special it is for him as well,” he said. “He earned it. He’s earned it his entire baseball career. He’s earned it this spring, and I couldn’t be happier for him and for us.”