FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins needed a starter in the worst way, with the back end of their rotation consisting of inexperienced arms or veterans emerging from injuries. And the trade Saturday with Tampa Bay for righthander Jake Odorizzi addresses that need.
But Chris Archer, now Odorizzi’s former Rays teammate, promises that the Twins are getting more than a midrotation stabilizer.
“Everybody wants to say I’m the leader, and I downplay it at times,” Archer told Tampa Bay media, “but Odi led in his own way, too. He was definitely a quiet leader that every other pitcher and position player respected. They watched him go about his business, the way he carried himself. He’s a professional.
“The Twins got a good pitcher. A really, really good pitcher. And they didn’t have to give up a huge haul of players. Maybe the one player is good but they didn’t have to give up a huge haul for it. They did a nice job.”
Odorizzi, obtained for shortstop prospect Jermaine Palacios, joined his new team Monday in time for the Twins’ first full-squad workout of spring training. His stall is between staff ace Ervin Santana and new closer Fernando Rodney. Odorizzi is one of six new pitchers brought in since the end of last season and perhaps the most vital as the club looks to bolster a rotation that was 18th in batting average (.270), 19th in ERA (4.73) and 24th in innings pitched (869⅔) last season.
Odorizzi, 27, was 10-8 with a 4.14 ERA last year, numbers the Twins likely would accept, given that they employed Bartolo Colon and his 5.18 ERA in 15 starts down the stretch. But, as an example of how Odorizzi understands his role, he pitched most of the season despite a strained lower back.
He landed on the disabled list in late July, but he finished strong, going 4-1 with a 1.72 ERA over his final six starts of the season.
“Looking back, it wasn’t a good idea,” Odorizzi said. “At the time, my arm felt good and I had an obligation to take the ball. It’s my job to pitch. I did the best I could.”
The Twins now sport a starting quartet of Odorizzi, Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson. The fifth starter role will be up for grabs between Phil Hughes, Adalberto Mejia, Aaron Slegers and, once his signing is made official, Anibal Sanchez.
Santana is recovering from surgery to remove a calcium deposit from the middle finger of his pitching hand. For about a month or so, everyone moves up a spot in the rotation. Mejia is the only lefthander in the group.
Younger pitchers such as lefthanders Dietrich Enns and Stephen Gonsalves and righthander Fernando Romero are long shots but will get looks. Manager Paul Molitor said he only needs a fifth starter twice during April and likely will take just four starters north.
“It’s not too hard to figure out who’s got a good chance to pitch there in the first week,” he said.
Odorizzi, 40-38 with a 3.83 ERA in his career, lengthens the rotation, especially when Santana returns to action.
Santana, 34, admitted Monday that he felt discomfort when he threw his slider or changeup during the wild-card game against the Yankees. Rest did not help, so he had surgery nearly three weeks ago.
Berrios, the staff ace-in-training, was 14-8 with a 3.89 ERA last season.
Odorizzi likely will slide into the No. 2 spot in the rotation on Opening Day. At 27, his best years could still be ahead of him. He offers reliability, which can help a club grind through a season.
“There is a level of certainty that Odi brought,” Archer said. “He’s a model of consistency and he’s an ultra competitor. At times guys have to pitch through minor injuries, and you knew Odi was going to take the ball if he was healthy and you could count on him to do his job.”
Once Santana returns, Odorizzi will be the midrotation stabilizer. Gibson, who went 7-3 with a 3.76 ERA the second half of last season, could end up as the fourth starter, with the Battle Royale winner going for the fifth.
While the Twins could take a big swing for a top starter at the trade deadline, Odorizzi gives them someone they can count on now.
“No disrespect to the people involved, but we’ve talked for a while about being able to bump some of the guys on the bottom end of the competition and to try and strengthen the upper half of it,” Molitor said. “It just deepens us. I’m not sure where we’re going to land here as we start the season.”