They’ve had a short lefthander throwing sliders, and a tall righthander chucking fastballs. They’ve used Everyday and Aggie, and even a guy named Brandon who had never tried the job before.
Over the years, the Twins have utilized All-Star closers of all shapes and stripes. So why not an archer?
“I’m not sure what he’s shooting at,” manager Paul Molitor quipped of his demonstrative new closer, “but I know it’s better if he hits it.”
Yep, the Fernando Rodney bullpen figures to be one of the more colorful in the Twins’ long line of ninth-inning specialists, but the crooked-capped, faux-arrow-shooting righthander may be one of the least notable pitchers in it. The 41-year-old Rodney, whose first save (and iconic celebratory archery) will make him the oldest Twin ever to collect one, intends to own the ninth inning in Minnesota. But his manager knows that games are often decided much earlier.
“The bridge to get [to Rodney] is critical, too,” Molitor said of his newly revamped corps of relievers. “We’ll see how it shakes out, but the more options you have, the better.”
Molitor suddenly has more options than ever before, partly because of a winter spending spree that added Rodney, Addison Reed and lefty Zach Duke but also thanks to the steady development in 2017 of returnee lefthander Taylor Rogers and righthanders Trevor Hildenberger and Ryan Pressly.
The latter, somehow entering his sixth season in the Minnesota bullpen, could thrive, Molitor believes, now that he’s surrounded by more experienced teammates than usual. “We like Press a lot,” the manager said. “It’s a little bit more crowded out there this year, as far as what he might be able to do and what opportunities he’ll get.”
Rogers and Hildenberger, despite their status as first- and second-year big-leaguers, were Molitor’s best bets for the late innings in 2017. Along with Pressly and Rule 5 pick Tyler Kinley with his 100-mile-per-hour fastball, they could move back to the sixth and seventh innings, with veterans Zach Duke and Addison Reed moving into eighth-inning territory.
“It’s a good mix of experience and youth, and hard throwers and breaking-ball guys,” said Molitor, who in his three seasons leading the Twins has never had a bullpen post an ERA lower than 3.95. “Yeah, there’s some depth that maybe we haven’t always had.”
That’s true of the starting rotation, too — and who would have thought that possible when Ervin Santana decided to undergo surgery on his pitching hand? But the midcamp additions of righthanders Jake Odorizzi, in a trade with the Rays, and Lance Lynn, a free-agent signing from the Cardinals, gave the Twins five pitchers who have started at least 125 games, plus second-year righthander Jose Berrios, who may be the best of the bunch.
“We’re all aware of how difficult it was to establish five pitchers who could be counted on to give you a chance,” Molitor said of his 2017 rotation, which posted a collective 4.73 ERA, or more than a full run worse than AL Central foe Cleveland (3.52). “Solving that gives you a chance to be within striking distance on a regular basis.”
Last year, 44-year-old Bartolo Colon was a once-a-week member of the starting rotation in August and September, and lefthander Adalberto Mejia remained on the team just by being occasionally satisfactory. Now, Colon has been jettisoned and Mejia will open the season in Class AAA Rochester.
“You don’t want to disrespectful,” said Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey, “but we feel a lot better about our options on the mound this year.”