The Minnesota Twins have placed right-handed starting pitcher Michael Pineda on the injured list with right knee tendinitis, and are purchasing the contract of 23-year-old lefty Devin Smelzter to take his place on the roster.
Smeltzer will make his debut in a start against Milwaukee on Tuesday night at Target Field.
The Player: Left-handed pitcher Devin Smeltzer
How Acquired: Trade from Los Angeles Dodgers with OF/1B Luke Raley for 2B Brian Dozier on 8/1/18
The Situation: Smeltzer will start for the Twins on Tuesday against the Brewers, and may head right back to Rochester with the Twins activating Nelson Cruz on Thursday when they’re in St. Petersburg to play the Tampa Bay Rays. Then, when Mitch Garver is ready to return, the Twins will likely choose between Luis Arraez and Willians Astudillo — most likely Arraez.
The Numbers: 1.82 ERA, 5.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.90 WHIP in 24.2 innings at Pensacola (Double-A); 0.60 ERA, 9.9 K/9, 0.9 BB/9, 0.73 WHIP in 30 innings at Rochester (Triple-A).
For the season, Smeltzer has absolutely nuked left-handed hitters (.182/.224/.218) and righties haven’t had much success either (.206/.248/.305). Another fun split is how he’s faced against hitters younger than him (.143/.182/.143 in 44 PA) and older (.214/.258/.318 in 164 PA) and he’s not distinctly a fly ball or groundball pitcher.
His groundball rate — remember that 45 percent is about average — is 41.3 percent this year in Rochester, was 41.4 percent at Pensacola and has never been higher than that outside of his stint at Low-A in 2017 (47.7 percent).
Quirks: Smeltzer, a bladder cancer survivor — rhabdomyosarcoma, say that five times fast — is one of few remaining players who not only wear high socks, but stirrups as well.
The Lowdown: I watched him in his best and worst starts of the year — and it’s worth noting that both came against the Durham Bulls in the span of less than a week, and in that order. A lot of people wonder about how hitters will react to seeing a pitcher in consecutive starts — a chicken/egg debate over who it favors — but in this case, the Bulls got the better of the lefty the second time out.
Physically, Smeltzer is slender and very tall. He’s not Nick Gordon thin, but there’s almost no extra weight on his frame in the upper half. He has big, strong pitcher legs adorned by the aforementioned stirrup socks.
On May 11, Smeltzer threw eight shutout innings against Durham in Rochester — his home Triple-A debut — and looked very, very good. He was facing former Twins righty Oliver Drake, who was terrific and has since been called up to the Rays. The Bulls only got four hits against him — one was a bunt and another was a soft grounder in no man’s land that Miguel Sano (!) was unable to throw the runner out on despite making an athletic, barehanded grab on.
Smeltzer also showed good fielding awareness on a grounder to his right, as he allowed Sano to come in on it and make a throw rather than trying to field it himself — an extraordinarily awkward play for a lefty to make.
Smeltzer worked from the middle of the rubber, and got a Chris Sale comp on his delivery from Wings broadcaster Josh Whetzel. Don’t get that twisted in terms of stuff, but rather just that the lefty throws a lot of arms and legs at the hitter when they’re trying to pick up the ball.
Smeltzer sat in the upper 80s with his fastball and wasn’t afraid to throw it up in the zone as he got six strikeouts. They were all swinging — a good sign since his swinging-strike rate went from 15 percent at Pensacola to just 9 percent at Rochester. Ten percent is roughly average. I didn’t see too many sliders, as it felt like the curve — in the upper 70s — was clearly his preferred secondary pitch, but the ones I saw were fairly good with two-plane break. The changeup was in the low 80s and did more than enough to keep hitters off-balance and he’s not afraid to throw it left-on-left.
On May 17 in Durham, Smeltzer was knocked out in the fifth inning after allowing four runs on eight hits with three strikeouts and a pair of walks to take his only loss in a Red Wings uniform.
Smeltzer sat in the upper 80s with his fastball in this one as well, and didn’t run into trouble until the second inning. Nate Lowe opened the inning with a loud out to left, and Michael Brosseau followed with a double to get the Bulls in business. Smeltzer fell behind 2-0 and had to come in with a 90 mph fastball, and Brosseau smashed it off the Blue Monster in left field at Durham’s stadium. The play was close at second, but he was ruled safe and ultimately scored when John Andreoli bobbled Nick Solak’s single a handful of pitches later.
That was the first earned run against Smeltzer at Triple-A — in his 17th inning of work down there.
Smeltzer gave up his second run much quicker, as catcher Nick Ciuffo followed with an RBI triple. Smeltzer worked ahead 0-2, but gave up a 1-2 three-bagger into the right-field corner which scored the second run of the inning. The lefty rebounded to get the next two outs while stranding Ciuffo at third base, but the damage was already done.
he Bulls clapped back with two more runs in the fourth after Jake Cave tied the game with a two-run moonshot in the top half of the inning. The Bulls opened the fourth with a walk — on a curveball, as Smeltzer will throw most of his pitches no matter the count — and then a Solak home run.
That would seem to indicate how thin of a margin Smeltzer works with, as he’ll try to get by with every pitch in every count. He managed to complete the fourth inning and get two outs in the fifth, but a four-spot in the sixth against Trevor Hildenberger doomed the Red Wings in the loss.
The Scout’s Take: “Three-quarters, cross-arm delivery with deceptive, long arm action. It’s a funky delivery but not as funky as when he was with the Dodgers. He repeats it well despite unusual quirks and arm action. He was up to 92 mph as a reliever but had him 88-90 this year as a starter with his two-seam fastball. He controls better to his glove side — in to righties — but the command is below average for a starter. Because of the deception, the fastball plays up. The velo, however, looks below average due to shallow extension in his delivery. Second-best pitch is definitely the curve, but he can keep righties honest with the changeup. His slider has 11-5 movement — not unlike a curveball — and it can get slurvy. He’s a competitor. Future role: lefty specialist due to command, stuff and delivery questions.”
The Verdict: In all honesty, it’s hard to know how Smeltzer’s stuff will play in a likely one-off situation like this. Jake Odorizzi works up in the zone and does the spin rate thing, so it’s possible that’ll work for him as well, but it’s hard to say. The Twins are likely hoping for four solid innings while piggybacking him with someone like Zack Littell.
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