Throughout the organization (first in Double-A and Triple-A and then in the majors) the Minnesota Twins experimented with the concept of using an opener -- having a relief pitcher start a game, followed by a “primary pitcher” -- last season.
The concept, which was introduced first by the Tampa Bay Rays -- new manager Rocco Baldelli’s former team -- was talked about plenty around the Winter Meetings, where more and more teams suggested they, too, might try it out.
So, how much might the Twins turn to it next season?
“I would say that we’re going to be open-minded to the idea of creatively using our pitching,” chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. “…I think we are seeing across baseball a clear trend toward utilizing guys in a different way out of a bullpen. Some are clearly backend guys, some are short-stint types and there is this multi-inning role, whatever you call it. That could be really valuable to us.”
Baldelli, when asked about ideas he would bring over from the forward-thinking Rays, said bringing those ideas over is important, but they needed to see how they apply to the current roster.
“Some of those ideas I bet we’ll see on the field,” Baldelli said. “Some of them we’ll, I bet, talk about them a lot and they don’t end up out on the field, but the fact that we’re talking about them and having this conversation, that’s where everything else sprouts from.”
Many of the Twins’ young pitchers now have some experience with it, and general manager Thad Levine said a lot of guys were “very open-minded,” to exploring it, which is important if and when the Twins decide to employ it.
“I think we’ve been stuck for a very long time in a very particular way of using pitchers, and in a lot of cases, it works great, but I think there are a lot of options out there,” Baldelli said. “I think one thing that is important is that the pitchers themselves have to believe that this is a very good thing, and that you’re not just trying to convince them of it - you actually want to believe it and you want them to believe it.”
Right-handed pitcher Fernando Romero made 11 starts for the Twins last season, pitching to a 4.69 earned-run average in 55 2/3 innings.
And as he heads into 2019, he could be in the mix for the fifth starter slot, but the Twins have a clear need for bullpen arms, too, and could decide to utilize Romero that way.
“Whether he’s pitching the seventh, eighth and ninth (innings) or the first second or third or five or six innings, at some point of the game yet to be determined, but what is pretty clear to us is that this guy wants the ball when the game is on the line,” Levine said.
Fans hoping to nab tickets for Opening Day can do so on Monday as those tickets, along with Target Field tickets through May, will go on sale either online or by calling the Twins, starting at 10 a.m. Monday.