Target Field sat silent on Friday, waiting for the second game of the Twins’ three-game series against Cleveland to be played ... on Saturday.
It was an off day designed by Major League Baseball to provide an option if weather forces a postponement on Opening Day, typically one of the largest-drawing games of the season. It was the Twins’ only Friday off day of the season — but far from the only off day the team has during the first two weeks of the season.
The Twins have a whopping five days off before April 12. It’s the Final Four effect, as the Twins have to hit the road while the NCAA crowns a men’s basketball champion at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Next week, the Twins head to Kansas City for a two-game series, then face the Phillies and Mets in road interleague series — all cushioned by off days.
“The early portion of the Twins’ schedule was impacted by the presence of the Final Four in Minneapolis, which contributed to their consecutive interleague series,” MLB spokesman Mike Teevan said. “There was also a desire to build in an off day around Opening Day for weather protection.”
This impacted the Twins’ decision to open the season with an 11-man pitching staff; with so much down time, they do not figure to need any more arms. It led to fifth starter Martin Perez opening the season in the bullpen instead of the rotation. An 11-man staff allows for a five-man bench of position players, buying the Twins time while they evaluate first baseman Tyler Austin and infielder Ehire Adrianza, both of whom are out of options.
All MLB teams have 20 off days this season, not counting the four-day All-Star break, meaning 25 percent of the Twins’ off days will be used by mid-April. They have the most off days during that period of anyone in the league. The Tigers, who are opening the season in the comfy confines of Rogers Centre in Toronto, only have two off days in that span. So do the Royals, who will play four games next week at covered Safeco Field in Seattle.
It forced the Twins to map out an early-season staffing strategy.
“It’s a unique situation,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Our first couple of weeks make you think a lot.”
Righthander Jake Odorizzi had a thought. “I think it’s a waste of off days,” he said. “We don’t really need them.”
Not enough work
One of the unintended consequences of the scheduling quirk is that players, mostly pitchers, can’t continue routines that began during spring training. It’s seems odd that some would be against not working, but the creatures of habit like staying on cycle, and pitchers like to stick as close to a schedule as possible.
“It’s going to push people back,” Odorizzi said. “It’s going to lead to people getting skipped [in the rotation] and do tons of things. The most we can do is hope for good weather; that way it is one off day instead of two.”
Perez made seven relief appearances for Texas last season after struggling as a starter. After signing with the Twins and tweaking his mechanics, he’s touching 97 miles per hour with his fastball. The Twins are eager to see how Perez does in the rotation as much as Perez — but he will be a reliever until April 16, the earliest date the Twins will need a fifth starter.
So working out of the bullpen shouldn’t be a problem, right?
“No. I’m not going to say it’s going to be easy, because I have to stay focused like a starter,” Perez said. “I’m going to do my routine, because that’s going to be my spot this year, as a starter. I’m not going to take anything easy. I think it’s time to start strong and finish strong.”
Others have pointed out that more off days early means more games later, times when they could benefit from a day off. After an off day April 11, the Twins will play 26 games in 27 days. And they have two more stretches of 26-in-27 during the second half of the season.
Plenty of down time
Catcher Jason Castro remembers last April, when the Twins had four games postponed in their first homestand. By April 20, some teams had played 20 games, but the Twins had an MLB-low 13.
But Castro is wondering how everyone will feel in August and September.
“It was obviously not a standard weather season,” he said of 2018. “When you have to work around that, it makes it tough. Having those off days early at least gives you flexibility, but still, you would rather have them later on.”
Twins players used Friday to get settled in their homes for the long season, run errands or just relax. For the newcomers, it was an opportunity to explore a metropolitan area they might be unfamiliar with.
One off day down, four more to go before April 12.
“Is it challenging? It’s challenging,” Baldelli said. “It’s a very different kind of schedule, one that I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of anything like this or seen anything like it before.
“We will adjust, we will be fine and we will figure it out and find ways to play well despite it. But it does force you to spend a lot of energy figuring out how you’re going to maneuver around five off days. But we will do it and we’ll be OK.”