In what could be his final start for the Twins, his team is asking nothing less from Jake Odorizzi than this: Save our season.
And the veteran righthander relishes the challenge.
“I’m ready. I’ve seen [the Yankees] plenty over the years,” Odorizzi said last week. “There are no secrets to have between the teams.”
And there aren’t many secrets about facing the veteran righthander, whose contract expires when the Twins’ season does, either. Get to him early, or face the consequences. Odorizzi has recorded at least 16 outs in 21 of his 30 starts this season — and the Twins are 19-2 when he does.
“We’ve had him come up in about four or five really big games this year, where we just needed a really quality outing, and he’s responded every single time,” reliever Trevor May said. “He matched up with [Houston ace Justin] Verlander in the 1-0 win earlier this year. He’s been a rock. … He’s been that guy all year. I don’t think there’s anyone else we’d rather have in this situation.”
We will never know whether they would be in this situation — trailing 2-0 in the Division Series after being outscored 18-6 during an awful weekend in the Bronx — had they chosen Odorizzi to start Saturday’s game. The Twins supported rookie starter Randy Dobnak with only two runs against Masahiro Tanaka and four relievers, after all, dooming them to their 15th consecutive postseason loss and 12th in a row to New York.
But Odorizzi, while careful not to question his manager’s decision, hinted he would have welcomed the chance.
“I’ve pitched [in Yankee Stadium] a lot more than other people,” said Odorizzi, who threw six shutout innings there in May and owns a 4.47 career ERA against New York. “I got a full crash course when I was a rookie, just learning how to pitch here and trying to be successful.”
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said the decision came down to several factors, but the homer-friendly dimensions of Yankee Stadium was a big one.
“It’s a stadium where you probably want to keep the ball down as best you can,” Baldelli said. Dobnak’s sinker produces ground balls, and the rookie allowed only one home run in his 28⅓ innings during the regular season.
Odorizzi, on the other hand, gets fewer ground balls — just 35% of his balls in play — than almost any starter in the major leagues; he ranked 69th among the 70 pitchers who threw at least 150 innings in 2019.
So he is ill-suited for a Yankees team that finished the season with only one home run fewer than the Twins’ record-setting squad? Not at all, Odorizzi said of his task Monday.
“Fly balls are one thing, it’s home runs that matter. And I’ve limited them pretty well this year,” Odorizzi said. Indeed, he allowed fewer than one home run per nine innings (0.9), a rate better than every Twins pitcher but Dobnak. And only 8.8% of the fly balls he gives up carry over the fence, the lowest rate among starters in the majors.
“Fly balls are mostly outs, so I’ll take 27 fly balls. How you get [outs] doesn’t matter as long as you get them,” he said.
Same with victories, especially in the postseason, and the Twins spent Sunday picturing a way out of their two-game hole. One thing they won’t do, Baldelli said, is make changes just to be doing something.
“We’ll stick with what we know and what we’ve done. We haven’t been overly reactionary all year,” Baldelli said. “Players are smart. … They sense things like that. When you start changing things up from what your original plan is, the feel of it isn’t the greatest.”
Of course, neither is two consecutive lopsided losses after a season of celebration.
“We got punched in the mouth a couple of times in New York, but the thing about it is, we have the pride to punch back,” May said. “So that’s what we’re looking to do here in the first game. It’s all about taking it one pitch, one hitter, one inning at a time.”