WASHINGTON – In the span of about 15 minutes Tuesday, Ryan LaMarre A) scored on Mitch Garver’s clutch two-out, ninth-inning hit, helping the Twins beat the Nationals 3-1 in their final spring game, and then B) cried.
The two events were not particularly related.
Moments after the Twins finished off the Nationals, limiting them to only two hits in their home ballpark to finish with a 14-14-3 spring record, LaMarre was informed by manager Paul Molitor and Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey that he had beaten the long odds of a spring camp invitee and would be added to the team’s final 25-man Opening Day roster. LaMarre thanked them, though “it was kind of a blur after that,” then ducked down the tunnel to call his wife and parents. That’s why his eyes were red and his voice was catching when he talked to reporters a few minutes later.
“I wasn’t choked up until I got to talk to my family,” said LaMarre, who beat out Zack Granite — optioned to Class AAA Rochester after the game — for the 25th roster spot. “In the back of your mind, you always think there’s a chance, but realistically, people probably didn’t think so. It was just incredible.”
So was his spring. LaMarre collected 19 hits in 40 at-bats, seven of them for extra bases, plus 10 RBI, and his .475 average led the Twins. He walked in his only plate appearance Tuesday, but it was important, setting up Garver’s game-winning single to center.
What made the difference? “His play and his energy. His improved at-bats. Some of the reports I had were encouraging. We gained confidence in his defense throughout the course of the spring,” Molitor explained about the 29-year-old former 2010 second-round pick, who bats righthanded and can play all three outfield positions. “I don’t think [Granite] had a particularly good spring, in terms of what I feel he’s capable of. For him to get consistent at-bats will be important for him early in the season, down there in Rochester. We’ll try to get him going.”
LaMarre hopes to get going, too, because he has some ugly numbers to erase: 2-for-37. That’s his career batting record in three brief stops with the Reds, Red Sox and A’s. How much do those numbers bug him? “A lot. A lot. I feel like I’m a completely different player after this offseason than I’ve ever been before,” LaMarre said. “You try not to think about it, but any time you see those numbers, it’s not great. Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to help this team win some games.”
The pitching staff might this year, too. Jose Berrios and six relievers held Washington to two hits Tuesday, an emphatic exclamation point on an encouraging spring. Berrios, scheduled to start Sunday against the Orioles, walked Bryce Harper but easily dispatched the other nine Nationals he faced, three of them via strikeout, and then declared himself ready for his third big league season. “My arm slot was very good. My pitches were right where I wanted them,” Berrios said. “I feel 100 percent ready to go.”
The bullpen looks set, too. Trevor Hildenberger surrendered a home run into the Twins bullpen by Nationals shortstop Trea Turner (though Ehire Adrianza soon matched it for the Twins, giving the utility infielder a team-high 12 RBI this spring), and Taylor Rogers was nicked for an infield hit. But Washington managed no other hits.
The Twins left immediately afterward for Baltimore, where they open the season Thursday afternoon. Will LaMarre’s wife — former Edina High tennis star Whitney Taney, a four-time Minnesota state champ — and family be there to watch his first Opening Day?
“I don’t know,” LaMarre said with a smile. “They were just screaming into the phone.”