The Saints' Pitching Depth Is Being Tested Early This Season

Photo Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins are just one team in their organization that has had injuries test its pitching depth. The St. Paul Saints also have the arms in their rotation go down early with one injury or another.

Matt Canterino ended Spring Training on the injured list with a right rotator cuff strain. Relievers Austin Schulfer and Jeff Brigham are out with a forearm and left oblique strain. On Monday, the Saints placed left-handed starter Brent Headrick on the 7-day injured list with a left forearm strain retroactive to his start on Saturday, April 6.

Down two starters with Canterino and Headrick, St. Paul’s starting rotation has only four pitchers available to make starts: Randy Dobnak, David Festa, Simeon Woods Richardson, and Caleb Boushley.

Brent Headrick

Headrick’s setback isn’t major. He’ll miss more than the seven-day minimum IL stint with a forearm strain. But if all goes well in his recovery, he could rejoin St. Paul’s rotation before April is over.

There have been signs of encouragement in Headrick’s command to start the season. He had zero walks in his first start against the Columbus Clippers and retired eight consecutive batters via strikeout.

“Control has always been a good thing for me,” Headrick said after his first start. “At his point now, it’s about seeing how hard I can throw my pitches and how many swings and misses I can get in the zone. I am just going to keep trying to do that and see how far I can keep this going.”

Headrick continued to get a lot of swings and misses during his second start in Nashville, recording seven strikeouts in five innings. But the walks caught up with him, allowing three in his second start. Walks will happen for any pitcher, but with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5:1 in 8 ⅔ innings, Headrick has started his season strong with his command of the strike zone.

Simeon Woods Richardson

Woods Richardson had a solid first start of the season, throwing five scoreless innings against the Nashville Sounds. But he struggled in his second start, surrendering seven hits and seven runs in 3 ⅓ innings of work against the Sounds.

Still, performance has an upside. Woods Richardson has had fewer walks per start, averaging just two per game. He attributes that to a change in his arm slot.

“We’ve been working on a new arm slot, working on better mechanics, becoming more efficient, and just staying athletic,” said Woods Richardson. “I was a two-way player my whole life, so I was kind of losing that athleticism. I am an athlete on the mound, I move very fast-paced, I’m a very quick-twitch guy, so I am trying to get back to those things.”

Another noticeable improvement in Woods Richardson’s early starts on the season is an uptick in velocity. On Sunday, his fastball topped out at 95.4 MPH.

“I think adding velocity just had to do with more efficient mechanics, lowering my slot,” Woods Richardson said. “Last year wasn’t the best, but I still had a great second half. Coming back, I wouldn’t say it was a total wash, but it was a good stepping stone.”

Two starts in one week against the same lineup always allow them to see the ball better against a starter. While Sunday’s start against the Sounds was a setback, the uptick in velocity and stronger command in the strike zone encouraged his 2024 season to continue on the right path back to the majors.

Caleb Boushley

Boushley is the organization’s newest addition. The Twins signed the 30-year-old right-hander to a minor league deal in January. Boushley spent his first six seasons in the minors between the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers organizations and made his MLB debut out of Milwaukee’s bullpen at the end of 2023.

He has split time between starting and relieving games throughout his minor league career. Boushley’s first start with the Saints on April 3 was solid: 5 ⅔ innings, striking out five and allowing no walks. However, his second start was similar to Woods Richardson’s. On Tuesday, he allowed 10 hits, eight earned runs, and three home runs in 4 ⅔ innings against the Iowa Cubs.

The bright spot in that start? Boushley did not give up any walks. Despite not having thrown a fastball over 90 MPH once in 2024, his command makes up for the lack of velocity with his pitches, which keeps him an intriguing start to watch in St. Paul this season.

David Festa

Festa is living up to his projections as one of the top pitching prospects in St. Paul’s rotation. In his first two starts on the season, the Saints have limited Festa to a combined 5 ⅔ innings. However, he’s allowed five hits, five walks, one earned run, and six strikeouts in those innings.

While the Saints have limited Festa’s workload, he feels he’s capitalized on a strong Spring Training.

“I’m really happy with how spring went,” Festa said. “Going into it when I first got down to Ft. Myers in January, I was a little bit behind just taking a few extra weeks off from last season. I think I progressed even faster than I thought I would have.”

Despite the innings limitations of the season so far, Festa has continued to trust in his slider and changeup, which are the best off-speed pitches in his arsenal.

“When you go out there for the first couple of times you don’t always have the best feel for your changeup or slider, but I really like where both are at,” said Festa. “Throughout Spring Training in the bullpen, I started to play around with a curveball a little bit. The organization thinks that it’ll help me out in the long term to have that fourth pitch.”

Festa has yet to throw a curveball against hitters this season, but fans can expect to see him throw the pitch as the summer progresses at CHS Field.

Randy Dobnak

Lastly, there’s Dobnak, who has been the anchor of the Saints’ rotation in terms of consistency and veteran leadership among the other starters. As the season began, Dobnak had yet to realize he was at the point of his career where he was the veteran amongst the young guys.

“It’s kind of weird to think about that now, that I am one of the older guys that’s been around for a little bit,” Dobnak said. “When I was coming up, there’s always older guys that would, if I had questions, I’d go to them and say, ‘Hey, how do I go about my day? How do I do this?’ And I tell them all the time it’s more about being confident, having a routine that works for you because what works for me might not work for them.”

On Wednesday night, the rotation began its third time through the order with Dobnak on the mound. Dobnak was solid through his first four innings. However, he ran into trouble in the top of the fifth, allowing a hit and his first and only walk of the game with one out. He was able to retire the Cubs’ top prospect, Pete Crow Armstrong, but faced first baseman Patrick Wisdom next, who is on a rehab assignment.

All it took was a sinker right into Wisdom’s wheelhouse, and it became 3-0 I-Cubs. After the game, Dobnak said it wasn’t too much of a shock knowing how well Wisdom hits sinkers.

“I wanted that sinker in a little bit more,” said Dobnak. “He’s really good at handling sinkers down and away, but he’s a good player. Good players make good swings on pitches like that.”

The Triple-A season is still young, but the depth of these Saints pitchers and their ability to get deep into their starts are still being tested. No starter has pitched more than 5.2 innings yet this season, and they’ll eventually have to eat innings to give their bullpen extra rest.

The upside for now is that the Saints have 12 relievers in their bullpen, including Caleb Thielbar and Josh Staumont, who are on Major League rehab assignments. But their assignments will end, and they’ll return to Minnesota’s depleted bullpen.

Like with the Twins, Ttings may not be picture-perfect for the Saints’ pitching depth. But players will heal from injuries, and others will begin to hit their stride as the weather continues to warm up to comfortable summer baseball temps.

How Does Minnesota’s Pitching Fix Its Home Run Problem?
By CJ Baumgartner - May 22, 2024
Is Jhoan Duran’s Walkout Entrance Affecting Hitters’ Vision?
By Max Kappel - May 21, 2024

Louie Varland Has Rebuilt His Confidence In St. Paul

Photo Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never something players want to face after making it up to the big leagues for the first time. But sometimes, a player struggles at the highest […]

Continue Reading