How will the Twins choose a fifth starter? Not by spring training results
NORTH PORT, Fla. — When it comes to deciding who might fill the Twins’ fifth starting pitcher spot to begin the season, one thing has become clear: Spring training results don’t really matter to Rocco Baldelli.
So, what does?
“We want guys to show that they’re going out there, their stuff is good, the execution is good, that they’re going out there and giving themselves the best possible chance to get guys out when they get out there in these games,” the Twins’ second-year manager said.
Jhoulys Chacin made his first audition on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at CoolToday Park in the Twins’ 4-4 exhibition game tie with the Atlanta Braves. Chacin, in his first start in a Twins uniform, threw two scoreless innings. The 32-year-old veteran signed a minor-league deal with the Twins earlier this month that included an invitation to the big club’s spring training.
The one batter he did allow to reach base did so when center fielder Gilberto Celestino misplayed a fly ball into a double. Chacin struck out two and sent down six of the seven he faced.
“I feel that I threw everything — my curveball, my slider, I threw a couple of change-ups, high fastballs — everything that I’ve been working on, I just tried to fill in the game in my first outing. Everything feels great, I feel the ball was coming out good,” Chacin said. “I’m just happy (with) how I felt. Results sometimes are going to change. Sometimes they’re going to be good, sometimes they’re going to be bad, but I feel like I was feeling really good out there.”
Chacin had a rocky year in 2019 between two teams, putting up a 6.01 earned-run average, but he is hopeful he will be able to replicate the success he had a year before, when he posted a 3.50 ERA in 35 starts with the Milwaukee Brewers. He said earlier this month that the chance to work with pitching coach Wes Johnson was a factor in his decision to sign with the Twins.
“We didn’t see a ton of difference in a lot of ways between him over the years. We still think the stuff is there, we think his ability to pitch is still there. That hasn’t changed. He can still do a lot of things,” Baldelli said. “He manipulates the ball really well. You watch him from behind, and we had the opportunity to do it during the live BPs, he can make the ball do things that very few guys can do.”
Chacin is competing for that fifth spot in the rotation with Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe, all of whom debuted last year with the Twins. Both Dobnak and Smeltzer have made starts for the Twins this spring and are expected to start again this week; Smeltzer will pitch on Wednesday and Dobnak on Thursday.
Thorpe, meanwhile, has left camp for the time being for personal reasons, Baldelli said.
“We expect him back at some point during camp,” Baldelli said. “Can’t tell you when that’s going to be. And when he comes back, he will be the one commenting and talking about what he’s dealing with right now. We’re respecting him in every way, and we’ll see him back soon.”
Thorpe had yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game before leaving, and the length of his absence could determine his readiness for Opening Day.
While the Twins are looking for a starter to use in the rotation to begin the season, they won’t necessarily use just one pitcher in that role before Michael Pineda is ready to return from his 39-game suspension in May. The Twins also are expecting Rich Hill, who is rehabbing from offseason elbow surgery, back and to slot into the rotation come June.
“The odds that we use multiple guys in that role over that period of time, that could definitely happen,” Baldelli said.
For now, the battle is on.
“The results, frankly, they’re not the highest priority. And then a lot of it is going to come down to the particulars of each guy’s situation,” Baldelli said. “Who we’re playing, our roster situation going into the season, how each one of them fit. There’s a lot factored in there.”