The Twins have been fortunate to have needed only six starting pitchers this season. Milwaukee has used nine, Boston eight. Toronto has had 11 pitchers start a game, but that includes a couple relievers turned into openers.
The reality is that every organization needs rotation depth to deal with injuries, doubleheaders or poor performance. Teams can trade for pitching depth before the July 31 nonwaiver deadline, but swinging deals can be tricky.
As the Twins power their way through the schedule, it looks more and more like they will be one of the 10 teams standing at the end of the regular season. But it will take more than the six starters they have used — the rotation of Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda and Martin Perez, plus two fill-in starts by Kohl Stewart.
So pitchers such as Devin Smeltzer are worth watching.
The lefthander joined the Twins last July with outfielder Luke Raley and infielder Logan Forsythe from the Dodgers in exchange for second baseman Brian Dozier. After a fast start to 2019 at Class AA Pensacola, Smeltzer is now at Class AAA Rochester, where he is 0-1 with a 1.82 ERA in four outings. Smeltzer, 23, gave up one earned run over five innings Thursday vs. Buffalo in an outing that wasn’t as sharp as his others. But he has put himself in range of helping the Twins out at some point this season.
At the time of last year’s trade, the Dodgers had demoted Smeltzer to the bullpen at Class AA Tulsa, where he was 5-5 with a 4.73 ERA. Jeremy Zoll, the Twins director of minor league operations, said there wasn’t enough time in the season to build him back, but the club was open to making him a starter in 2019.
So was Smeltzer.
“Devin was extremely passionate about getting another crack at being a starter,” Zoll said, “and felt strong and convicted in his ability to do it. We wanted to give him every opportunity to try to succeed in that role and fulfill that, and told him to come into spring training being prepared to get stretched out and built up.”
Smeltzer also worked on his body, reporting to camp with better flexibility and mobility. That helped his delivery, which helped all his pitches. Smeltzer doesn’t throw hard; his fastball runs from 89 to 92 miles per hour. But he can sink it and cut it and mix fastballs in with his breaking ball. He also has a changeup he throws to both righthanders and lefthanders.
Since he doesn’t throw hard, he has to have good control and be unpredictable, which he has been for the most part this year. He was 3-1 with a 0.60 ERA at Pensacola before his promotion to Rochester.
The Red Wings have starters. Stewart has gotten the call the two times the Twins needed someone. Zack Littell, called up Friday to help out the Twins bullpen, was 2-2 with a 4.19 ERA for the Red Wings, with seven of his eight outings being starts. Lefthander Lewis Thorpe is 3-2 with a 6.70 ERA but has pitched well his past two times out. One concern is lefthander Stephen Gonsalves, who likely has a stress reaction in his forearm and will be out three to four weeks.
The Twins should have an ear out for upgrades on the mound before the trade deadline, but pitchers such as Smeltzer are available when one is needed on short notice.
DOWN ON THE FARM
A look at minor league players making an impact in the Twins organization:
Nick Gordon, Class AAA Rochester: The fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft was reinstated from the injured list this past week after being out because of a left adductor strain. He already missed a month because of acute gastritis. In 12 games, the infielder was hitting .320. He has been bypassed by Luis Arraez, who played only three games with the Red Wings before parachuting into the majors after Nelson Cruz went on the injured list.
Brusdar Graterol, Class AA Pensacola: The 20-year-old righthander’s Instagram account included photos of him Target Field on Thursday, leading to rumors that he was being called to the big leagues. Instead, he was placed on the injured list because of a sore pitching shoulder. He was 5-0 with the Blue Wahoos with 46 strikeouts in 47 innings.
Royce Lewis, Class A Fort Myers: The No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft has hit a hurdle at advanced Class A. The 19-year-old shortstop — he turns 20 on June 5 — was batting .228 through 45 games for the Miracle. Nevertheless, he was named to the Florida State League All-Star team on Friday.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Jorge Polanco’s batting average after the sixth inning. The Twins shortstop leads the AL with a .340 batting average, but he has been especially effective late in games. His .377 batting average after the sixth inning is also best in the AL. The switch hitter is the only Twins player to hit above .300 in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Here were the AL leaders in batting average after the sixth inning (through Friday, minimum 45 at-bats):
1. Jorge Polanco, Twins.377
2. Christian Vazquez, Bos.375
3. Brian Goodwin, LAA.373
4. Mookie Betts, Bos.368
5. Elvis Andrus, Tex.356
6. George Springer, Hou.348
7. Joey Gallo, Tex.347
8. Xander Boegarts, Bos.344
9. Tim Anderson,CWS.339
10. Omar Narvaez, Sea.339