WASHINGTON – Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor looked two tables to his left and saw Twins righthander Jose Berrios, who was experiencing his first All-Star Game media day on Monday.
“I’m very happy for him,” Lindor said. He’s a great pitcher and a great person. I know how hard he works every single year to become the best player he can be.”
What Lindor, a fellow Puerto Rican and member of the 2017 World Baseball Classic team, knows about Berrios, the Twins see every day, on the field, in the weight room, in meetings and even when he’s leaned back in a chair in his clubhouse. Berrios might be the most dedicated pitcher the Twins have when it comes to training and preparation. His laser focus has helped him to a 9-7 record and 3.68 ERA that was good enough to land him on the AL team — and a hint that he’s on his way to becoming one of the better pitchers in the league.
“The first thought is that, isn’t that what everyone should do?” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “But we pay attention to some guys who seem to be upper tier in their commitment to doing everything that [they] can in order to prepare, whether it’s how they take care of their or body or whatever before the games.”
Like No. 17.
Those who have observed Berrios say that he carries himself as if he knows he’s good — but he backs it up with the work he does behind the scenes. It’s that intersection of talent and sweat that has his career ascending. His hits per nine innings have decreased in each of his first three seasons in the majors, currently down to 7.1. He averages a strikeout an inning, ahead of last year’s 8.6 mark per nine innings. He’s seventh with a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) at 1.01. Berrios, Seattle’s James Paxton and Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco are the only AL pitchers with two complete games.
“He actually knows he’s elite rather than thinking and hoping to be, and that is impressive for a young player at that age,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “You know you can be dominant, You know you can be a front-line guy. It changes the whole game, the mental side of it.”
Berrios nodded when comments such as Dozier’s were relayed to him.
“It’s my job,” he said. “I take pride in coming in here every day, work hard for my team and for myself and then I just go out there and execute.”
Berrios has used social media to release clips of his winter workouts — including one in which he pushed a small pickup truck across a field — so it’s already known that he has no offseason.
During the season, Twins pitching coach Garvin Alston said Berrios is like clockwork on the days between starts. He runs 3½ miles the day after an outing, then goes through various stretching routines to get loose, and then will play some catch. Then he will sit in on whoever is throwing in the bullpen that day, something Twins starters do to support each other.
The next day, he gets a run in before he throws in the bullpen before meeting with Alston to discuss his next start. He relaxes on the third day, then the fourth day finalizes the game plan for the next opponent. On the fifth day, he pitches.
“It’s relentless,” Alston said.
He’s learning to make quick changes when a game plan is not working. He’s also learning how to survive without his best stuff. That was the case on July 4 in a loss to Milwaukee. Berrios didn’t have much but gave up only three hits over seven innings — the three hits happened to be solo homers in a 3-2 loss.
“His curveball was 79-81 miles per hour,” righthander Kyle Gibson said. “His fastball was 90-92. I was like man, what is going on?
“He goes on to pitch well. He gave up home runs late that skewed his numbers. I turned to Jake Odorizzi and said, ‘I had my best stuff two days ago and gave up four runs. He has his 60 percent stuff and he goes into the seventh.’ ”
Berrios was 3-7 with an 8.02 ERA in his debut season of 2016, then improved to 14-8 with a 3.89 ERA last season before his All-Star appointment this year. He’s come a long way from the day in Cleveland in 2016 when Bert Blyleven, Ervin Santana and then-pitching coach Neil Allen were at his bullpen sessions, trying to come up a way to help him compete.
And now he’s in the nation’s capital, considered one of the best in the game.
“I’m going to try to have fun with my Puerto Rican guys here and have some good times,” Berrios said. “These couple of days are going to be fun for me.”