FORT MYERS, FLA.
Righthander Ryan Vogelsong pitched there in 2000, 2001 and 2011-15. He learned to entice hitters to drive the ball to deep parts of the ballpark. But now he would have to adjust to pitching in Target Field, which is more hitter-friendly, if he makes the team.
“I loved pitching in San Francisco because of the ballpark, but I feel like I’ve gotten a little away-heavy because of that ballpark,” he said. “It’s very easy [against] righties to pitch away and make them hit it in that right-center-field gap. Also with lefties. A big left field. Pitch them away and see if they can beat you away.”
Vogelsong pitched three innings Saturday, giving up two runs on four hits and two walks with one strikeout during the Twins’ 12-5 loss to Boston at Hammond Stadium. It wasn’t the best of lines for someone in the running for a spot in the rotation. But Vogelsong is trying to get used to pounding hitters inside again, and he tried that approach at times when he normally wouldn’t.
“Last year, I felt like I needed to do a better job of pitching in,” said Vogelsong, who has a 7.27 ERA in 8⅔ innings this spring. “So I’m really focusing on that area in spring training. Getting the ball in, even if it is a hit.”
Vogelsong has spent most of his career pitching in AT&T Park, which is where the fewest home runs in the league have been hit in each of the past two seasons.
Vogelsong spent all or parts of six seasons with Pittsburgh, including 2016. The Pirates play in PNC Park, which was 27th in home runs hit last season with 148.
There were 212 home runs hit in Target Field last season, eighth most in baseball. A recent analysis by ESPN had it ranked as the 12th-most hitter-friendly park in the league.
Volgelsong will have to use his bag of tricks if he takes the mound at Target Field.
“For a guy who has been around, I think he knows what he’s trying to do each and every time he is out there,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “I don’t think there is pressure, but he’s just trying to prove to people that he can still be an effective pitcher at this level. That’s tough for anybody.”
Vogelsong’s fastball touched just 87 miles per hour just once Saturday, but it averaged 90.1 miles per hour last season, and he expects it to be at that level by the time he breaks camp. Still, he will have to finesse his way through lineups. He tried to do that Saturday in the second inning but gave up a pair of two-out runs on RBI singles by Blake Swihart and Dustin Pedroia. Vogelsong threw 34 pitches in the inning. He tried to get hitters to put the ball in play, but Boston fouled off eight pitches in the inning.
Vogelsong pitched a 1-2-3 third before being replaced.
“He really has an idea of what he’s trying to do with the ball,” Molitor said. “He knows he’s got to be fairly pinpoint on command to make his pitches work.”
Things fell apart as soon as Vogelsong left the game.416523823
Pablo Sandoval kicked off Boston’s five-run fourth inning with a home run off Jake Reed. Danny Santana’s RBI single in the fifth brought the Twins within 7-5, but the Red Sox scored five more runs in the sixth, including Sandoval’s three-run blast off Nick Tepesch.
Reed has a 96-mph fastball but is struggling to reach the majors. Vogelsong knows who he is and is spending spring training fine-tuning his pitches.
“My changeup was better today,’’ Vogelsong said. “The cutter is probably about where I want it right now. I’m getting pretty close. I’m just trying to repeat and be able to adjust quickly.”