FORT MYERS, FLA. – Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson has directed starting rotations that have dominated and some recent ones that have been disasters.
With spring training opening Monday, Anderson said he believes he’ll have a starting five that will embrace a different ‘D’ word: dependable.
“This is the first time in about three years that we come to spring training with a little bit of an idea of what you have,” Anderson said.
Anderson appears particularly upbeat this year. Two reasons are because Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes are now Twins.
The club committed $73 million in salary to the two starters in an effort to improve a staff that has posted a 5.08 ERA over the past three season — the worst in baseball during that period. Nolasco, 31, was 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA last season with the Marlins and Dodgers but 8-3 with a 3.52 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) with playoff-bound Los Angeles following a midseason trade. Hughes was 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA with the Yankees — ugly, indeed. But the Twins believe Hughes, who won 18 games in 2010 and 16 in 2012, can return to that form. After all, he’s still only 27.
Who can blame the Twins for feeling optimistic? It’s spring training, where hope is in full bloom and every team is 0-0.
The Twins have learned from the past couple of seasons that nothing is worse for a team than starting pitchers who often had them trailing 3-0 after two innings. And nothing gives a team more confidence than starters who regularly can pitch deep into games.
The Twins offense might be under reconstruction well into the regular season, but teams can still contend with good pitching and a little run support. The Twins, after three consecutive seasons of between 96 and 99 losses, are willing to embrace that formula this season.
“We believe we have done a good job of addressing that with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes,” Twins assistant GM Rob Antony said, “and with Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia. We wanted to get back to having five starters who give us a chance to stay in the game, not give us situations when we are down 3-0, 4-0 sometimes in the first inning. That demoralizes a team.”
Knowing he was wanted
The Twins locked in on Nolasco early in the offseason and never ended the courtship. He was 81-72 in seven-plus seasons with the Marlins, and the Twins have been impressed at how he has matured in recent seasons. It doesn’t hurt that Nolasco thrived under the Hollywood lights with the Dodgers, where Zack Greinke, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp and rookie Yasiel Puig made headlines.
“It seemed like [Nolasco] was very confident,” Antony said. “It wasn’t a false confidence, it was the confidence of a guy who had gotten it done before, knows what he needs to do and knows what he brings. He’s a guy we expect to solidify and bolster a rotation that wasn’t good last year.”
So the Twins made Nolasco their most expensive free-agent signing ever, giving him $49 million over four years with an option for 2018.
Anderson did his homework as well, calling Marlins manager and former Twins catcher Mike Redmond. The two Washington state natives reveled in Seattle’s Super Bowl shellacking of Denver before Anderson asked what to expect from Nolasco.
“He said, ‘Andy, you are going to love him,’ ” Anderson said. “He works his tail off. He’s a gamer. And he battles.”
Nolasco, who should be a candidate to take the ball on Opening Day, has accepted the challenge the Twins have laid out for him.
“They reached out on Day 1 and they never stopped,” Nolasco said. “That’s a good feeling to have someone come after you like that and make you feel wanted. I’m happy for the change of a new city in Minnesota, definitely happy to try to help this team try to turn things around and get back to winning.”
Leaving the Big Apple