FORT MYERS, Fla. — Bailey Ober's perfect spring had an unlucky end on Saturday. But it's probably about to get a lot worse.
Ober, who had not allowed even a hit in his first three starts, surrendered a wind-blown double to leadoff batter Kevin Pillar, a run-scoring double to Marcell Ozuna, and solo home runs to Yolmer Sanchez and Josh Fuentes, and the Twins lost a split-squad Grapefruit League game to the Braves, 9-4 at Hammond Stadium.
It's not the finish Ober wanted, but even a hitless and scoreless spring might not have been enough to save him from what comes next, perhaps as soon as Sunday: A demotion to Class AAA.
"I have no idea. I'm hopeful. Just kind of expecting both scenarios so I'm not really blindsided," Ober said. "I felt good this camp, and hopefully [Saturday's outing] isn't what they take into account going into the decision."
He knows, however, what the Twins' decision-makers will take into consideration: The presence of five veteran starters with assured jobs. Pablo Lopez, Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Tyler Mahle and Kenta Maeda are all healthy, meaning Ober never really had much of a chance to earn a spot.
Even manager Rocco Baldelli, who hasn't yet revealed Ober's fate, hinted at that blunt truth.
"There are situations in spring training where performance and what guys look like really do matter in the decisions that are being made. And there are other times where they matter less," Baldelli said. "I'm not going to go into his situation, but he's done more than what you could even expect or hope. I could not be happier with him."
Ober's return to Target Field is inevitable, given that no team ever uses only five starters in a season. But that knowledge doesn't offer much comfort, the 27-year-old righthander said.
"It's definitely been a little tough, especially the last two weeks, since it's more at the forefront," Ober said. "My wife's been doing a great job trying to take my mind off of stuff and asking questions and giving me time to just talk it out and vent a little bit. It's definitely hard. But it's a little better when I come home and I get to play with [his two] kids in the pool and enjoy being a dad."
Larnach goes deep
Trevor Larnach hit one of the longest spring training home runs in Hammond Stadium history, a solo shot that completely cleared the center field batter's eye on Saturday. Jose Miranda also homered, driving in Max Kepler in front of him, and the Twins added an unearned run, on a two-out Chris Williams single, in the ninth.
Jorge Lopez and Griffin Jax each pitched an inning of scoreless relief behind Ober, but non-roster righthander Jose DeLeon made a disastrous appearance, allowing six hits, including back-to-back home runs by Cade Bunnell and Fuentes, while recording only two outs.
Meanwhile, at CoolToday Park in North Port, a team of mostly Twins bench players and minor leaguers also lost to Atlanta by the same score, 9-4. Kyle Garlick homered for Minnesota in that game, the Twins' fourth loss in five games against the Braves this spring.
- Jorge Polanco took ground balls at second base on both Friday and Saturday, and took batting practice as well. The Twins infielder, his progress slowed earlier this month when some soreness returned to his left knee, will play in a minor league game on Tuesday, his first game action of the spring. Polanco will open the season on the injured list and remain in Florida, though the Twins expect him to be activated sometime in mid-April.
- Jax struck out all three hitters he faced Saturday, then hurried to the airport to catch a flight to Minneapolis. His wife is expecting the couple's first child in the next day or two. Jax expects to rejoin the team Wednesday night in Kansas City, the eve of the 2023 season opener.
- The Twins reduced their training-camp roster to 36 after Saturday's game by reassigning DeLeon and righthanded reliever Jeff Hoffman to minor league camp. Hoffman has an opt-out clause he can invoke rather than report to Class AAA St. Paul.