NORTH PORT, Fla. – It wasn't a specific date on the calendar, nor a looming deadline or a change in procedure. Most of the Twins' projected 26-man roster wasn't even present at CoolToday Park.
But it was also difficult to miss the feeling, at Hammond Stadium and on the road, that the time has come in Twins camp to get serious about 2021.
Most noticeably: They played nine innings for the first time all spring.
"We've been a little spoiled with the way some of these games have gone. We've gotten in and gotten out of some of these ballparks" quickly, manager Rocco Baldelli said after the Twins' 5-1 loss to Atlanta.
"It feels good to put in a full day's work. It also helps us get our guys some more innings out on the field, some more at-bats. There are definitely things we're going to get out of these games that we weren't able to [in] seven-inning games."
The players who will be getting them? Mostly major leaguers from now on, he said.
Baldelli informed infielders Travis Blankenhorn and Nick Gordon, outfielder Gilberto Celestino and catcher Ben Rortvedt that they are being optioned to the alternate training site. Those four join four pitchers who were sent out Sunday, along with a couple of nonroster pitchers, and leave 51 players in camp with 16 days remaining before the opener in Milwaukee.
"These guys had a very, very productive camp for us, and they're going to continue to get a lot of work on the back fields," Baldelli said. They need "to get their timing in and get ready for their season, as opposed to coming in and getting an inning here and there and hopefully getting an at-bat every other day."
Actually, they (and many of the 25 players still to be cut or optioned) have plenty of time, considering they will start the season at CHS Field in St. Paul, working out in case they are needed before the minor league season begins in May.
But to help them ramp up, the Twins and Red Sox on Wednesday will stage a B game for their prospects on a back field at the Red Sox's JetBlue Stadium complex, concurrent with the major leaguers on the main field.
Meanwhile, expect the projected starters and their likely backups to get more than two at-bats a day now, Baldelli said.
The paring down and consolidating the major league team will become more obvious after Thursday's off day, which the Twins will use to realign their clubhouses. Pitchers have been housed in the minor league locker rooms, in order to create more social distancing. But Baldelli wants the major league pitchers moved to the Hammond Stadium clubhouse this week, to help the players start to jell as one team.
Twins third base coach Tony Diaz spent Monday's game in the dugout, serving as temporary bench coach for Baldelli, so first base coach Tommy Watkins moved across the diamond while Class A hitting coach Brian Meyer handled first.
"Tommy can coach a good third base," Baldelli joked after the game, "but he sure knows how to make an entrance."
The "entrance" he's referring to came in the third inning, when Jake Cave lined a single to center field and Watkins waved home Nick Gordon from second base. But Braves outfielder Christian Pache closed on the ball quickly and made a perfect throw home, in time for catcher Alex Jackson to tag Gordon out.
"Big day for Tommy. His dad was even at the game. He sends the runner, close play at home, could have been safe, called out," Baldelli said with a grin. "[Watkins] comes in and gets the guy hosed at the plate, but that's OK. Stay aggressive."
Thorpe's role changing?
For the third time in eight days, Lewis Thorpe threw only one inning Monday. He still might be a starter, but Baldelli said Thorpe is preparing for a relief role, too.
"He's not competing for one particular job or role. He could go out there and help us starting games, he could be coming out of the pen for us. So I don't want to get too locked in to exactly what Thorpie's up for," Baldelli said of the Australian lefthander, who gave up his first hit of the spring, a single to Atlanta outfielder Phillip Ervin, in the eighth inning.
Still, Baldelli said, had the Twins rallied to force a bottom of the ninth, Thorpe would have gotten a second inning.
"He's up for anything," Baldelli said, "and he's been throwing the ball great."