Halfway through his four-year, $49 million contract, Twins righthander Ricky Nolasco knows he has not fulfilled his end of the deal.
Nolasco is 11-14 with a 5.64 ERA in his first two seasons with the Twins after signing as a free agent. He made only eight starts last season because of an impingement in his right ankle that required surgery.
He returns for 2016 looking to avoid landing in the bullpen. But Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson, Tyler Duffey and Tommy Milone look to be ahead of him in the pecking order. Top prospect Jose Berrios will be in camp. And Trevor May would likely have an edge on Nolasco, too, but he’s expected to start the season as a reliever.
It doesn’t look good for Nolasco, who probably would be trade bait if he had more value. But he’s in great shape and will report to camp determined to win a spot in the rotation.
“I’ve been a starting pitcher my whole career and I still consider myself that,” he said during an interview with Twins announcers Cory Provus and Dan Gladden. “That’s what I want to stay.”
His love of automobiles came up during the session. He owns nine cars, including a Lamborghini. No. 10 will have to wait for a while while he works on retaining his starting status.
“I don’t deserve a car right now,” he said.
Team’s brass engages with fans
Twins owner Jim Pohlad, President Dave St. Peter and General Manager Terry Ryan answered fans’ questions for an hour on Saturday, and were peppered about various subjects.
Several asked questions about first baseman Joe Mauer. Ryan believes Mauer can have a bounce-back season, that he doesn’t expect him to hit for power and that defensive shifting against him might have frustrated him at times.
But Ryan also believes that Mauer never will return to catching.
“If we would ever get any OK from a physician, we would consider it,” Ryan said. “Unfortunately, there isn’t a physician — especially the concussion experts — that could trust that he isn’t going to take another bop on the head on a foul tip or a collision at the plate — although collisions at the plate are a forgone conclusion nowadays.
“If he took the wrong type of foul tip off the mask and got knocked silly, I couldn’t forgive myself. So he’s going to be a first baseman.”
There was a Matthew Broderick look-alike on Saturday wearing a Twins jersey in the visitors’ clubhouse — the place where the team hangs out when they aren’t making TwinsFest appearances.
It was righthander J.R. Graham, who weighed in Saturday at 175 pounds after finishing the season at 205. In addition to his normal workout regimen — although he tried a little yoga — Graham paid attention to what he ate more than he ever has. He made sure he ate breakfast and got three square meals. He cut out pizza and alcohol. And the pounds melted away.
“I just didn’t feel good,” he said. “I was lethargic. Energy was not there. Moving around, I just didn’t feel as good as I have. I knew I needed to make a little change in my diet.”
Graham, a Rule 5 draft pick last season, was 1-1 with a 4.95 ERA. He broke Alex Rios’ left hand with a pitch on April 13 and gave up a grand slam to Alex Rodriguez on Aug. 18, but he had several moments in which the Twins saw his potential. But Graham must make the team this season or the Twins can send him to the minors without having to place him on waivers.
• Pay attention to three players out of options heading into spring training: Oswaldo Arcia, Danny Santana and Michael Tonkin. There is a scenario in which Arcia and Santana make the team as reserves. Tonkin might have a tougher time sticking in the bullpen.
• Max Kepler and Kennys Vargas were supposed to be part of TwinsFest, but Kepler has an ear infection and Vargas is playing in the Caribbean World Series.
• Ryan made an interesting comparison when talking about new catcher John Ryan Murphy. “He’s a very similar catcher to Jonathan Lucroy with the Brewers,” Ryan said. “That’s kind of who we match him up with.”