Terry Ryan used to be accused of scrounging in the bargain basement as the Twins baseball boss. Derek Falvey, 34 and nearly 30 years Ryan’s junior, has demonstrated in eight months on the job that it doesn’t take experience to search those dimly lit corners for any pitcher with a limb attached to his shoulder.
The Twins have employed 28 pitchers with 47 percent of the 162-game schedule remaining. That included backup catcher Chris Gimenez, who has pitched in six games, and Dillon Gee, who was recently with the Twins for four days without pitching.
On Friday, Falvey threw a trump card (not that Trump) into this competition that Ryan could not have imagined: He rounded up a guy who used to pitch for the Montreal Expos.
Bartolo Colon, 44, and the last competing Expo from his time in Montreal in 2002, was signed to a minor league contract. This came three days after he cleared waivers after being dropped from his $12.5 million contract with Atlanta.
This only seems like a desperate pitching move for the Twins because that’s what it is. To paraphrase a great American, some people see Bartolo’s 8.14 ERA in 13 starts in Atlanta and ask why, and Falvey sees that and asks, “Why not?”
As poorly as he pitched for Atlanta, the Mets were required to release a statement to their fans, saying they had made a “strong effort to sign Bartolo, but he decided to go elsewhere.”
That means the Twins had to convince Colon this was a better opportunity than the Mets, where he had been a heroic 40-years plus pitcher for three seasons. Colon will go to Class AAA Rochester for a start or two, but the Twins’ need for a fifth starter is clear.
Hector Santiago is on the disabled list after struggling mightily, and rookie Felix Jorge was blasted by the Orioles in a 2⅔-inning start Friday.
Colon has been an internet sensation in recent years with his chubby face, beefy frame and futile attempts at batting. When he hit his first career home run last May in San Diego, the nation’s baseball fans howled in delight.
Comedy aside, Colon turned 40 while with Oakland in 2013, and it was the first of four excellent seasons. He was 62-40 with a 3.59 ERA. He was an All-Star in Oakland and again with the Mets last season.
The main reason for this success was impeccable control. I heard a pitching coach once say of a strike thrower, “He can throw the ball in a teacup,” and that was Colon: 105 unintentional walks in 779 innings.
Falvey said what drew the Twins to Colon were the several times in which he reinvented himself as a pitcher — a kid who blew hitters away with his fastball, a Cy Young Award winner with a terrific mix of pitches, and then a master of location.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say his control and command have gone backwards,” Falvey said. “It’s more that he’s been nibbling a bit more. We talked with his agent, and [Colon] felt there were some things he was doing that were uncharacteristic for him, from a command standpoint.
“He’s confident. He said he feels just as good as he’s been the last couple years. So, hopefully we can see a rebound with a fresh start.”
Falvey said he talked with Ervin Santana as the team started discussing the possibility of pursuing Colon. Big Erv and the now-big Bart were teammates in Anaheim when Santana came into the American League in 2005.
“Ervin talked glowingly of him as a teammate and a guy in the clubhouse. Ervin is a friend, and they chatted briefly.”
The Twins also could have gotten a scouting report from a Hall of Fame hitter who faced Colon: Paul Molitor, their 60-year-old manager.
Molitor was 2-for-8 (singles) when he was with the Twins in 1997 and 1998, and Colon was a young hard thrower for Cleveland. One of those singles came Sept. 27, 1998, when Colon was the opposing starter in Molitor’s final game.
How long has it been for Bartolo in the big leagues?
Colon made his first start against the Twins as a rookie on July 13, 1997, in the Metrodome. LaTroy Hawkins was the opposing starter.
Colon went five, Hawkins didn’t get out of the fifth, and the Indians won 12-5. Hawkins became an exceptional reliever and pitched for 19 more years. He retired after 2015, now works for the Twins, and figures to soon have Colon pitching for his ballclub.