CHICAGO – It’s a good thing John Curtiss is a pitcher and not a scout. He would never have taken a chance on … well, John Curtiss.
“I wouldn’t have drafted myself in the sixth round. I had no slider and my command wasn’t very good,” the righthanded reliever admitted Wednesday, his first day as a major leaguer. “All I could do was rare back and throw 97 [miles per hour]. So looking back, I’m shocked I went as high as I did.”
The Twins are glad they heeded the advice not of Curtiss, but of scout Marty Esposito, fired last month in a staff shake-up, when he recommended drafting the redshirt sophomore out of the University of Texas. Not many teams were interested — Curtiss had undergone both Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery and thoracic outlet surgery during his college career, and his agents were told that “about half” of MLB teams crossed him off their lists due to medical concerns — but the Twins drafted him in the sixth round and offered him more than $250,000 to sign.
The Twins hoped he could start, but switched him to the bullpen permanently in 2016, after another elbow scare that was successfully treated with two months’ rest. “By Memorial Day , my elbow was killing me. I thought I needed [a second] Tommy John,” he said. “I went and rehabbed for two months and haven’t had any problems since.”
Hitters have, though, because Curtiss has added a slider to his mix, a couple mph to his velocity, and the confidence to close to his mind-set.
“Generally, when I’m in a calmer state of mind, my command’s better. I don’t think too much of it is physical, I think it’s mostly between the ears,” said Curtiss, who had 19 saves with Class AA Chattanooga and Class AAA Rochester when he was called up Wednesday. “When I start racing a little bit, I get a little erratic and overthrow. But when I calm myself down, and try not to do too much, that’s when my command improves.”
He has struck out 68 batters in 49 1/3 innings this season, and posted a combined 1.28 ERA that convinced the Twins to add him to the late-season mix in the majors.
“He’s had a really nice year. His numbers kind of jump out at you,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “You have to be mindful that they’re minor league numbers, but basically he’s a two-pitch guy with high-end velocity. You’ll see 94-98 [mph] and a good slider, which he has harnessed. That’s made a big difference in his development over the summer.”
Jason Castro took a ball off his mask during Alan Hanson’s third-inning at-bat Wednesday, noticeably flinched at a much harder shot to the head by Jose Abreu in the fourth inning, and received a glancing blow from an Avisail Garcia foul ball in the fifth. Whether it was one of those shots in particular, or the cumulative effect of all three, the effect became clear as the game went on.
“Right after taking a pretty direct shot he was OK,” Molitor said. “As he had to start shifting his eyes around the field for different things, the dizziness and some of the symptoms that concern you increased.”
Molitor removed Castro after the fifth inning, and the catcher was examined for symptoms of a concussion. “We’re just going to monitor him,” Molitor said, “and we’ll see how he does overnight, and try to reevaluate tomorrow.”
The Twins have two other catchers on the roster in Chris Gimenez, who caught the game’s final four innings, and rookie Mitch Garver, so there’s no need to rush a decision on whether to put him on the disabled list.
“Very worried. He’s been good behind the plate,” said starter Ervin Santana. “We don’t want to miss him.”
An even 50 on the year
Curtiss will set a couple of Twins records when he throws his first pitch. He’s the 12th player to make his major league debut this season, topping the 11 debuts in 1999 that had stood as the franchise record. And he will be the 50th player to appear in a game for the Twins (and the 35th pitcher, already a Twins record), breaking last season’s record of 49.
“You don’t think about how many meetings you’re going to have to have with guys, bringing them in [the office] and either welcoming or sending them out. Still one of the least enjoyable parts of the job is having those type of conversations,” Molitor said. “But given the change in the rules and the disabled list being shortened [to 10 days], everyone knew there was a chance to be a lot of movement. … [But] I don’t think I would have [expected] 50.”
Max Kepler still wasn’t feeling well when he arrived at Guaranteed Rate Field on Tuesday, but the Twins gave him a saline IV in the trainers’ room. “That made me feel a lot better,” the right fielder said. And when he woke up Wednesday morning, he was feeling good and ready to play again after missing the previous two games.
Kepler began to feel lightheaded during the first game of Monday's doubleheader, amid the heat and humidity of Chicago. “I was having trouble with my vision, actually. I took some really awkward swings, which at the time, I was like, ‘Just one of those days,’ ” Kepler said. “When the game ended, I sat down, and I felt really bad. Weak, lightheaded.”
• Hector Santiago “had a good, healthy day” throwing a bullpen session, Molitor said. The Twins lefthander, on the disabled list since July 2, will throw another Saturday, then go on a rehab assignment next week.
• Delaware North, the concession provider at Target Field, will hold a job fair Thursday at the ballpark, seeking cooks, cashiers, clerks and dishwashers.