FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jhoulys Chacin was drawn to the Twins for two primary reasons.
One, they’re a winning team. The Twins won 101 games on their way to an American League Central title last year — and Chacin wanted to be part of that.
Two, Wes Johnson. Chacin had heard good thing about the Twins’ pitching coach and was looking forward to working with him.
Chacin signed a minor-league deal with the Twins and is competing for the final spot in the rotation this spring, along with Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer. With Michael Pineda out until May as he serves out the rest of his suspension for testing positive for a banned diuretic, and Rich Hill rehabbing from surgery, the Twins have an open spot up for grabs for at least the early part of the season, and Chacin, with help from Johnson, hopes to snag it.
“They told me there’s an opportunity here for me. Especially in the first two months, there’s going to be a couple of guys out,” Chacin said. “I just want the opportunity to show that I can pitch like I did two years ago, to show … sometimes, you have a bad year like I did last year. I feel ready. I feel 100%. I just want to go out and pitch and have fun.”
The 32-year-old had a rough 2019 season, finishing with a 6.01 earned-run average between two teams, the Red Sox and Brewers. But in the three seasons prior, he posted a combined 3.97 ERA, and he thinks he can be the pitcher he was then. Chacin, who debuted in 2009, has a career 4.03 ERA in parts of 11 major-league seasons.
“You hear a lot of good things about him and about working with him,” Chacin said of Johnson. “I feel like he can help me get back to how I was before.”
Chacin said he was having issues with his fastball command last year and his release point wasn’t the same. To compensate, he used his slider. Too much, he said. As Chacin overused his slider, hitters figured him out.
“Besides that, I just wasn’t getting ground balls. I’ve always been a ground-ball guy, and I wasn’t getting ground balls last year. That’s something I could tell — maybe I was getting my pitches too high or my sinker wasn’t down in the zone, which I was trying to do, so we had really good conversations, and I’m just ready to work with (Johnson).”
Almost all here
The Twins clubhouse was buzzing Wednesday morning, and why not?
It was packed with pitchers and catchers — and many other position players who reported to Fort Myers early — all ready for the first day of spring training.
All pitchers and catchers were accounted for Wednesday except two. Newly-acquired starter Kenta Maeda was in transit and expected to be in camp on Thursday. Reliever Fernando Romero is the only other pitcher not in camp yet. He is in the Dominican Republic and has been held back by visa/immigration issues, the team said. The Twins do not expect him to be in camp this week.
“I don’t know when he’s going to get here, but I would assume that he would have plenty of time to get ready for his season,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We want to have everyone here on Day One, but that’s not always possible, and that’s perfectly OK. We can catch our guys up very quickly.”
A year after giving up No. 23 for Nelson Cruz, Mitch Garver has given up his jersey number again, this time for the newly-acquired Maeda. Garver will wear No. 8 and Maeda will take No. 18, which he wore with the Dodgers.
“Sorry to the fans who bought an #18 jersey recently,” Garver tweeted. “Kenta really wants that number and if that is what it takes for him to feel comfortable and be his best, I’m all in.”