BRADENTON, FLA. – Neil Allen’s first mid-inning mound intervention went perfectly Monday.
Twins righthander Alex Meyer, making his first Grapefruit League appearance of the spring, had loaded the bases in the third inning of a 1-1 game by giving up a double (nearly a home run) to Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole, plus a walk and a hit batter. With two outs, Allen trotted out to the mound for the first time as Twins pitching coach.
“He said, ‘Just settle down. It’s your first time out here [and] you need to relax. Make a few pitches right here,’ ” Meyer said. “He said [to do] exactly what happened — ‘Why did this guy [Pirates outfielder Starling Marte] look bad last at-bat? It was a breaking ball. Mix in a few here and you should be fine.’ ”
Perfect. Meyer, dissuaded from throwing a first-pitch fastball to Marte, struck him out on three breaking pitches, leaving the bases loaded and keeping the score tied.
“His command wasn’t great, but we all know he’s got a live fastball,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “We’re looking for him to use his secondary pitches and show what he can do.”
Twins fans aren’t going to want to hear this, but Vance Worley looked ready for Opening Day during Monday morning’s B game at the minor league Pirate City complex. The Twins’ Opening Day starter in 2013, Worley struck out Byron Buxton twice and Miguel Sano once in three shutout innings, and Pittsburgh nominally “won” the informal six-inning competition 2-1.
The Twins had reason to be encouraged by their own pitchers, though, as lefthanders Taylor Rogers and Jason Wheeler each pitched two scoreless innings, facing a Pittsburgh lineup made up mostly of major league veterans. Rogers, facing major league hitters for the first time in his career, struck out former Brewers slugger Corey Hart to end the first inning, and threw a terrific changeup to induce a double-play ball from Brent Morel in the second inning.
“It felt good, maybe still kind of foreign,” said Rogers, a 24-year-old lefthander and a former teammate of Meyer’s at Kentucky. “Obviously, you dream about that type of stuff. So when you see it in your dream, it’s easy to do when you’re actually doing it.”
Jorge Polanco, batting from the right side, provided the only offense for the Twins, crushing a home run to left field off former Padres lefthander Clayton Richard.
In addition to the strikeouts, Sano also allowed a grounder directly at him to scoot through his legs for an error. “He kind of got caught flat-footed, the ball didn’t take a good hop. You’d like to see him keep it in front and try to have a chance at it,” Molitor said. “But he’s working at it.”
Waiting his chance
Josmil Pinto is the only position player who has yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game, but the Venezuelan catcher believes that will change as soon as Tuesday. Pinto suffered a strained right quad last week, but he has been able to catch in the bullpen for two consecutive days.
“He’s making progress,” General Manager Terry Ryan said. “He’ll probably play later on this week.”
R.A. Dickey will face his old team as the Twins make their only visit of the spring to Dunedin, Fla., home of the Blue Jays. Kyle Gibson makes his second Grapefruit League start.