Now settled into relief role, Twins’ Griffin Jax tinkers with new pitch
Jax finished the 2022 season with a 3.36 earned-run average across 72⅓ innings pitched.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — This time last year, Griffin Jax was preparing to come to camp as a starter. When he arrived, he was looking to compete for a spot on the Opening Day Roster. When he left to head north, it was with the Triple-A St. Paul Saints, not the Minnesota Twins.
The right-hander has come a long way since then.
“When you’re in that position, where you don’t even know what your role is going to be on the team and you don’t even know if you’re going to be on the team, it kind of wears at you,” Jax said. “ … This entire offseason was great just in the sense that I knew — and I know — what my role and what my job are going to be, so I can just train for that.”
With the stress of job uncertainty off of his shoulders, Jax went to work, spending time training at Driveline, the data-driven performance center, and tinkering with a new pitch: a cutter.
“We’re artists,” the reliever said. “We get to play around and see what we do well, and we get to see what works well for us and what doesn’t work for us.”
Jax’s slider is already a work of art; he held opponents to a .187 batting average against and they slugged just .260 off his first masterpiece, a pitch which he threw 48.4 percent of the time last season. Now, he’s looking to add to his collection.
And that’s something manager Rocco Baldelli likes to see, as long as it doesn’t take away from the breaking ball that has gotten him to this point.
“I always want our guys finding ways to improve themselves,” Baldelli said. “ … The cutter has a chance to be a useful, helpful pitch in certain situations. But at no point do you want it to start blending or taking away, in any way, from a pitch that he relies on a lot. Nothing should come at the expense of him being able to spin the slider.”
As he entered the offseason, Jax thought briefly about a sinker to pair with the slider before eventually settling on the cutter, which he believes will help him against left-handed hitters.
“Picked it up right away,” he said. “It was pretty simple, pretty easy. I just dove into it with the Edgertronic (camera) and figured out the right grip with it. I fell in love with it, and it’s been a good work in progress since.”
Jax used his new pitch while facing some hitters at home this offseason in the Phoenix area, but now, he’s really getting a chance to see how it plays in game action against major league talent. Early in camp, Jax has been pleased with the velocity on the pitch. The movement, he said, is “a little inconsistent from day to day.”
The new offering, he thinks, will help him improve on a breakout season in 2022, during which he settled nicely into his new role as a reliever. Jax finished the season with a 3.36 earned-run average across 72⅓ innings pitched. Jax posted a 115 ERA+ (100 is league average) and a 1.051 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) last season, striking out 78 batters in his 65 appearances.
The 28-year-old rocketed up the leverage ladder, finding himself in increasingly more important situations as the season wore on. And so one year after coming to camp without a spot on the roster, Jax has turned himself into one of the team’s most important bullpen arms.
“I still have to go out there and prove that I can do it and earn that role,” he said. “But as of right now, I can feel very comfortable that I’m going to excel in that role again and I’m looking forward to it.”
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