At no point in his major league debut Saturday did Alan Busenitz calm down.
“I couldn’t tell if I was breathing,” the Twins rookie reliever said. “It was fun though. The whole thing is a blur. When I came out, someone asked me, ‘Did you remember anything?’ I was like, ‘No.’ ”
Pitching coach Neil Allen’s eyebrows raised when the story was relayed to him.
“If we can get him to throw the ball like that,” Allen said, “I don’t want him to get comfortable.”
That’s because Busenitz showed the Twins that he can throw strikes, a skill sorely needed on a beleaguered pitching staff that is on its way to setting a club record for most pitchers used in a season — for the second consecutive year.
Not yet halfway through the season, the Twins already have used 25 different pitchers — 16 of them relievers. Last year, they set a club record by using 29. The Twins appear to be a lock to set another record this season, with the trade deadlines coming up, more promotions from the minors likely and Glen Perkins recovering from shoulder surgery.
And, yes, backup catcher Chris Gimenez, who has made five appearances, is part of the list.
Five pitchers — Busenitz, Randy Rosario, Justin Haley, Jason Wheeler and Nik Turley — have made their major league debuts this year.
“We are in need of pitching, that’s no big secret,” Allen said. “At the same time, we know we have to groom them and groom them properly and bring them along the proper channels.”
Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor hit a hanging breaking ball off Busenitz for a home run in the eighth inning, but the rest of Busenitz’s two-inning outing pleased the Twins. He gave up two hits and walked a batter, but 19 of his 29 pitches were thrown for strikes — with a couple of pitches the Twins felt should have been called strikes. His fastball ranged from 94 to 97 miles per hour, and he hit 99 mph earlier in his minor league career. Busenitz throws a curveball that he has worked on with Class AAA Rochester pitching coach Stu Cliburn to throw for strikes.
Both Allen and manager Paul Molitor spoke highly of Busenitz following his outing, which is understandable. They were in the middle of a four-game series with Cleveland during which their pitchers walked a whopping 22 batters. It seemed as if the Indians always had a scoring threat, and many of the walks came back to haunt the Twins. They were encouraged by Busenitz’s pitches being around the plate.
“I’m sure nerves were part of it,” Molitor said. “He talked about, postgame, about he couldn’t feel his legs. He attacked. We see the numbers. We knew he had a good run [at Rochester]. We knew he had the velocity.”
The Twins hope Busenitz can string together a few outings and become an asset. The transaction wire has burned up because the Twins have been looking for someone to do that for most of the season. They even dipped to Class AA Chattanooga earlier in the month to give Rosario a chance.
Busenitz, 26, was drafted by the Angels in the 25th round in 2013 from of Kennesaw (Ga.) State. He came to the Twins on Aug. 1 of last season as part of the deal that sent Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer to the Angels.
“We liked his [velocity] out of the bullpen and felt his curveball was an ‘out’ pitch,” said assistant general manager Rob Antony, who was the acting GM at the time. “We had decent reports on him, so we wanted to add a good arm to the organization.”
Busenitz pitched in 11 games between Chattanooga and Rochester the rest of the 2016. In 19 games at Rochester this season, Busenitz was 2-0 with a 2.15 ERA with nine walks and 32 strikeouts in 29 ⅓ innings. A carload of friends and family hit the road for the Twin Cities as soon as he called with news of his call-up. They made the 14-hour drive from the Athens, Ga., area in time to see him pitch in a Twins uniform.
And he has a chance to stay in that uniform for a while.
“For someone to come out in a major league game and control both sides of the plate the way that he did and maintain his velocity, it was very impressive,” Allen said. “I think he was very aggressive in the zone. I think his stuff plays very well at this level.”