Here we are about a week-and-a-half into spring training and I wanted to take a minute to address the starting pitching outlook for the Minnesota Twins.
Recently, Twins manager Paul Molitor mentioned breaking camp with a four-man rotation which would be an interesting move as we wait for Ervin Santana to make it back from surgery.
Looking at their schedule, the Twins have three off days in the first week of their season, which means they won’t have a need for a fifth starter until the second week of April. Because of two more off days in the following week, they won’t need a fifth starter again until the last week of April.
In fact, by the time the Twins need a regular fifth starter, Santana could be back from his injury and in the rotation. Of course, this is all assuming that the Twins starters stay healthy, which I know can be a dangerous assumption to make.
It’s a little too early to speculate how Molitor will fill the fifth rotation spot before Santana returns, but I do want to address the candidates for filling in the final spot in the rotation come Monday, April 2 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
If the starting staff goes into the season healthy, then I foresee Jose Berrios getting the Opening Day nod followed by Jake Odorizzi and then Kyle Gibson in some order. Those are my clear-cut, top-three guys.
Once Santana comes back, he slots in as the number two behind Berrios, but who brings up the back of the rotation? I believe that one of Adalberto Mejia, Phil Hughes or Anibal Sanchez are the most realistic candidates with prospects like Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero being big long shots.
Here’s a quick overview of what we’ve seen from Mejia, Hughes and Sanchez so far this spring.
Coming into camp he was my favorite to take the job as he was the most successful in the 2017 season.
In his first start against the Orioles, who used an MLB-caliber lineup to start the game, he fared well, pitching two innings of two-hit, one-walk baseball and got out of two jams with a fly ball in the first and a double play in the second while only facing eight batters.
His second start wasn’t as good as he gave up four hits, including a homer, and two earned runs to another Major League caliber St. Louis lineup, but all of the damage was limited to just one inning.
His 30th and final pitch of the day was a perfectly-located fastball which resulted in a swinging strikeout from Yadier Molina. In summary, Mejia has looked hittable yet efficient in four of the five innings he has pitched this spring.
Hughes has also made two starts this spring against the St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays. In a game against mostly minor leaguers, Hughes looked solid, only facing seven Cardinals batters in two innings pitched with a hit and a strikeout.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t nearly as efficient in his second start against an MLB-caliber Blue Jays lineup, allowing a pair of home runs versus Kevin Pillar and Yangervis Solarte, as well as three other hits in 2.1 innings pitched.
It’s important to note with a pitcher bouncing back from injury is that his fastball velocity is sitting higher now than it has been in the last three seasons, according to MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger.
Phil Hughes' fastball is sitting 91 mph. Good sign in his first outing, considering it averaged 89.7 mph last year. He hasn't averaged above 91 mph since '14.
— Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) February 26, 2018
The long shot coming into camp on a low-risk contract has made two relief appearances of two innings each against mostly minor-league talent.
He had success against the Red Sox allowing no base runners and striking out one, but was then shellacked against the Pirates giving up six earned runs over five hits including a three-run home run by Elias Diaz who has one career home run to his name over almost 200 at-bats.
If you’re looking for positives he did strike out four batters and Steve Buhr noted the following:
To be kind, the first 3 hits were a couple bleeders & a bloop. Nothing lucky about the HR tho. RT @RhettBollinger: Anibal Sanchez struggling here in the sixth. He's allowed four runs, including a three-run homer to Elias Diaz.
— Steve Buhr (@JimCrikket) March 4, 2018
It’s too early to say anything definitive right now, but as it sits today I would still rank them in the order I had them a couple weeks ago: Mejia, Hughes and Sanchez.
Even as we break out of camp at the end of the month, I see this situation remaining fluid for most the season as none of these guys have shown they can be reliable over a long period of time.
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