FORT MYERS, FLA. – Thursday is Opening Day for the Twins.
To Jake Odorizzi, it’s like any other day.
“I’m not going to view myself as a different pitcher now that I’m an Opening Day starter,” he said. “[I’m] just ready to do my job and do it for the other 24 guys on the team.”
Wait a second. What about the pomp and circumstance? The bunting flowing throughout the ballpark? The introductions and the flyovers, not to mention the star power that is summoned for the first pitch and national anthem?
Kids get out of school for this, you know. It’s kind of a big deal.
Plus the Twins tabbed Odorizzi, who turns 28 Tuesday, to take the ball as they start their playoff quest at Baltimore.
At least take a minute to savor the moment, will ya?
“I’ve taken it all in just the last couple of years from the dugout view,” Odorizzi said with a smile.
First game, or last game, Odorizzi views it as a day to work. Picked up in a spring training trade from Tampa Bay, the righthander comes across as a guy who doesn’t allow his pulse to quicken, regardless of the moment. He will be only the fifth pitcher in Twins history to make his franchise debut as an Opening Day starter.
Odorizzi, who was traded from the Rays for infield prospect Jermaine Palacios on Feb. 17, will represent an enhanced Twins starting rotation that includes free agent Lance Lynn. The strengthening of the rotation since spring training opened — plus the bolstering of the bullpen during the offseason — has raised optimism.
“For me, it has been a really good move in the sense of giving me that extra energy in that this is a playoff team and a playoff atmosphere,” said Odorizzi, who is 40-38 with a 3.83 ERA in his major league career, almost entirely with Tampa Bay. “We need to be prepared. And this gives you a little extra energy when you need it.”
Recovering from injury
Odorizzi was 10-8 with a 4.14 ERA in 2017, a season that included a stint on the disabled list because of a strained back muscle. He actually pitched several weeks with the issue before landing on the DL, rationalizing that as long as his arm was fine, he was going to take the ball.
“You want someone you can depend on,” said first baseman Logan Morrison, who played with the Rays the past two seasons before signing with the Twins on Feb. 25. “From my experience the last two years with him, if he’s able to walk, he’s going to pitch.”
Some have theorized that Odorizzi’s down season — he gave up a career-high 30 home runs — could be attributed to his back condition. He spent the offseason working on strengthening his back muscles and feels like he has moved on from the problem.
“I made adjustments throughout the season to pitch with that, which looking back wasn’t a good idea,” he said, “but at the time, my arm felt good and I had an obligation to pitch.
“I’m ready to be a healthy me. If I’m healthy, I think I can do a pretty decent job.”
The other issue could be the use of his four-seam fastball. He has been a notorious high-ball pitcher in his career, as FanGraphs pointed out, and tied for the major league lead last year with an average height of 3.17 feet with his four-seam (straight) fastball.
Odorizzi, whose fastball averaged 91.6 miles per hour last season, wants to bring his pitches down a little this season. He also throws a slider, curve and a split-fingered changeup. He can vary his pitches to the point that it appears he is throwing more than four.
Ervin Santana, coming off an All-Star season in which he went 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA, should have been the Opening Day starter, but he had a calcium deposit near the knuckle of his right middle finger removed shortly before camp opened and is just now able to grip a baseball without any pain. He is projected to return in mid-May.
It would have been a no-brainer to write in Jose Berrios as Santana’s replacement. The 23-year-old was 14-8 with a 3.89 ERA last season and might have the best stuff of anyone in the rotation. But the Twins are playing Cleveland on April 17 and 18 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Berrios was born in nearby Bayamon. The coaching staff set the rotation up so Berrios can pitch the first game of that series.
“If we play all our games before we get there, that would be correct,” manager Paul Molitor said. “Who knows if that will happen?”
So Odorizzi gets Opening Day.
“You are going to get the same me as you would at any point,” he said.
After making that clear a few times, Odorizzi finally admitted that Opening Day is a little different.
“It is a special point that I can say I’ve done it in my career,” he said. “And it is a cool thing to look back on once everything is said and done. I’m very honored I was selected to do it.”