BRADENTON, FLA. - Every pitcher in a camp is on a progression to build arm strength to be ready for Opening Day. Sometimes that can be challenging when a pitcher is trying to win a major league job.
Twins lefthander Devin Smeltzer made it pretty clear that he is in camp to challenge for a spot in the rotation, not just get his arm ready for the long season.
“Day 1 through 4, that’s your day for work and adjustments and work the little things,” he said. “But when Day 5 comes around, they are trying to steal bread off the table. So I’m trying to go out there and compete as best as I can.”
Smeltzer said that after he tossed two shutout innings in the Twins’ 2-1 victory over the Pirates to open Grapefruit League play. The Twins scored twice in the third inning and held on behind strong pitching, holding Pittsburgh hitless for the first four innings. Willians Astudillo went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Smeltzer retired all six batters he faced, drawing oohs from fans when he used his sweeping curveball to strike out Josh Bell for the first out of the second inning.
It was also during the second inning that Smeltzer mixed in a slider he has been working on.
“Righties were starting to dive on my changeup, and since it’s higher usage, it’s something I can keep them honest with so they can’t necessarily lean out over the plate, get their hands out over the plate,” he said.
The slider was not the product of deep diving into stats.
“Believe it or not, [new bullpen coach] Bob McClure kind of told me to stop thinking, told me to try this grip and throw it,” Smeltzer said, “and I started to throw it last week, so it was one of those very rare occasions where it worked right away and it had confidence right away and it was doing what I wanted it to, the velocity is where I want it to be. So it was one of those rare occasions where I could just go right out with it.”
La VELLE E. NEAL III