Trevor May was just trying to build a foundation this season following Tommy John surgery last year. He didn’t know that Class AAA Rochester had become a Petri dish for the Twins to develop a more effective pitching staff.
But May was about to become Rochester’s first “opener,” a reliever starting a game, facing the top of the order, allowing the starter to follow him and possibly pitch into the later stages of a game without facing the best hitters three times.
“There was a meeting, a PowerPoint presentation, explaining the merits of the opener and such,” May said. “I can’t argue with the logic behind it. I just hope it’s not chasing something that’s not there. But we will see.”
On July 22, May threw a scoreless inning before Zack Littell replaced him and pitched 5⅔ frames.
The Twins have tested the arrangement at Rochester, Class AA Chattanooga and Class A Cedar Rapids. Former major leaguer Paco Rodriguez started for Chattanooga on July 18, throwing a scoreless inning. That was the first of seven times the Lookouts have started with an opener.
And it’s likely that, before the season is over, the Twins will begin a game with a reliever on the mound.
Part of the logic that May refers to is that the first inning ERA is the highest of any inning. Entering the weekend, it was 4.68. So why not attack the top of the order with a reliever who is equipped to do so?
The Tampa Bay Rays have used relievers to begin games since the start of the season. And their 3.16 first inning ERA is the third lowest in baseball.
“I hear a lot of comparisons to the Rays,” May said. “The Rays just have a good bullpen.”
Rochester used an opener eight times, through Wednesday, posting an 8.31 ERA. The scheduled starter has followed and posted a 2.49 ERA.
So it hasn’t really neutralized opponents early. But the Twins also see another benefit to the arrangement.
“It has allowed out players to be exposed to different scenarios that they may face in the big leagues,” said Jeremy Zoll, the Twins director of minor league operations. “We have been able to iron out what the warmup routine looks for the starter who will follow the opener for a variety of scenarios as well.”
Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said that 50 percent of starting pitching prospects make their first appearance in the majors as a reliever. And he’s a believer that a team shouldn’t ask a player to do something in the majors that he’s never done in the minors, like coming out of the bullpen.
It sounds as if the Twins are going to go through with this at some point. And Falvey pointed out that the opener, if used, would be applied once through a five-man rotation.
“If it is something that can make us better,” Falvey said, “Then we have to consider it.”
Indians: And here comes another. The Indians have looked into making splashy deals but balked when teams wanted Shane Bieber included in any package. Cleveland has held on to him, which looks to be a wise move. Entering a weekend series against the Royals, Bieber was 7-2 in his debut season and averaging 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He could torment the Twins for years.
Royals: Righthander Jakob Junis (lower back soreness) has returned from the disabled list with an effective slider that’s makes his future look brighter. Even though he took the loss on Wednesday against the Rays at Tropicana Field, he got 12 swings and misses with the slider, and that is an encouraging sign.
Tigers: Perhaps it’s a sign of how manager Ron Gardenhire has led the team this season. The club held a players-only meeting on Tuesday before its game against the Cubs, to talk about not letting up over the final weeks of the season. They want to do more than just play, they want to win as many games as they can, to help rebuild a culture of winning.
White Sox: Manager Rick Renteria was headed to Detroit on Friday after being cleared to rejoin his team. Renteria, because of lightheadedness on Monday in Minneapolis, was hospitalized at Hennepin County Medical Center. He ended up missing four games while tests were run at HCMC and a couple of days later when he returned to Chicago.
THE 3-2 PITCH
Three observations …
• MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was in town Wednesday for a diversity celebration and believes the game is on the verge of growing in terms of the number of African Americans reaching the majors. We’ve heard that before. The number of African Americans players in the majors remains under eight percent despite MLB’s seed-planting initiatives.
• Manfred did acknowledge that there have been discussions with the NCAA about how it could help college baseball grow. Let’s start with the 11.7 scholarship limit that’s driving kids to other sports.
• Enjoy watching Khris Davis this weekend at Target Field. He is one of the game’s unheralded stars.
… and two predictions
• As much as Oakland’s surge is a story that makes you warm and fuzzy, look for Houston to put a foot on the gas pedal in September and win the AL West.
• Meanwhile, the Dodgers will not make the playoffs. Something just can’t click with that team, even with Brian Dozier drawing more walks than striking out. His efforts aren’t paying off.