The reduction of the 2020 baseball schedule to 37 percent of the norm has created this reality: It’s never too early to panic in a 60-game season, including prior to any of those 60 games being played.
Thus, one day before the Friday night opener in Chicago vs. the White Sox, I’m officially in a panic over the makeup of the Twins starting rotation.
Lost in the major league record for home runs and the transformation of the bullpen from anticipated liability to outstanding asset, Jake Odorizzi was 100 percent a savior for the 2019 Twins.
Odorizzi’s pitching was mostly subpar in 2018 as an addition to the Twins, yet manager Paul Molitor had minimal options and was required to run him out for 32 starts. Molitor wound up getting fired after a 78-84 season.
Odorizzi was a revitalized pitcher last season: 15-7, 3.51 ERA, 30 starts, 139 hits allowed in 159 innings. He went to the All-Star Game, along with starting shortstop Jorge Polanco and Jose Berrios, his co-ace of the 2019 staff.
Berrios gets the start Friday against the White Sox’ Lucas Giolito. Odorizzi should have been next, but he’s starting the season on the injured list with a sore back.
Manager Rocco Baldelli was underplaying that on Zoom before Wednesday’s exhibition at Wrigley Field, but can you ever trust a sore back – and particularly with a 30-year-old starting pitcher.
A strong regimen of not exercising has allowed me to waddle about with a minimum of back pain. Everybody I know that has back flareups, though, they are miserable. They are slow to recover and quick to flare again.
Normal season – 162 games – and the Twins could tell their guy “Odo’’ to get a bottle of those little Doan’s pills, take a couple of weeks off, and then resume dazzling the world as a pioneer of the theory that you should pitch high in the zone, not low in the zone.
This is 60 games and, considering what else the Twins appear to have in the rotation, here’s the deal:
Question No. 2 for Twins fans on the eve of the opener has to be, “How’s the back, Odo?’’, right after, “Any chance Byron Buxton will be in center field for a plurality of these 60 games?’’
(Note: "Plurality' might be a tough word to understand when muffled behind a mask, so you might choose to try another one.)
Rich Hill now gets the start in Game 2. Cool gent, showed up big for the Dodgers at times, but he’s also 40, coming off a novel elbow procedure and was weeks away from pitching when Florida spring training was shut down in mid-March.
Hill’s opponent on Saturday will be Dallas Keuchel, a new White Sox’ acquisition. Fans of left-handed craftiness are advised to tune in, at least for the 4 innings that most starters will be working after the short preparation of summer camp, and with 10 or 11 pitchers in most bullpens.
Sunday’s starter will be Kenta Maeda, also new and previously with the Dodgers. Twins fans who devoted the past several years to complaining about Kyle Gibson’s “nibbling’’ should be optimistic that Maeda will fill that void for them.
That would leave Homer Bailey to start the first 2020 game at Target Field on Tuesday. There are no cap letters in home opener this time. No matter what rituals are employed, no fans means there’s nothing special – other than the playing of a ballgame – about this opener in Season 60 for the Twins.
Which might be good if what we watched from Wrigley Field bears any resemblance to what Bailey has to offer as a pitcher at age 34. That second home run hit by the Cubs’ Wilson Contreras … good thing this game wasn’t in Milwaukee or Bernie Brewer might have died in a shed explosion.
What in the name of Vance (The Vanimal) Worley was that? From the distance of Golden Valley, Minn., there was nothing on Bailey’s pitches from beginning to a three-inning end.
The TV crew assured us Homer was working on a few things. He was successful on one of those things: distance.
Presumably, the Twins will go back to Berrios in Game 5 next Wednesday, and then hope Odorizzi can take a start when Cleveland gets to Minneapolis for four games starting Thursday.
The other options are Randy Dobnak, the last of the sinkerballers, and Devin Smeltzer, a young crafty lefty as opposed to a veteran crafty lefty.
That’s the conundrum with this rotation: In the age of high heat, where’s that quality with Twins’ starters?
Berrios has exceptional pitches and doesn’t need to ride along at 96 mph with his fastball. Odorizzi gets away with his fastball because he so often spots it an inch above the swing, but overall, there’s a minimum of firepower in Baldelli's top seven starters. And it doesn't help that Michael Pineda's suspension wasn't prorated to 50 percent at most, as it should have been in with this mini-season.
There’s one factor missing here that prevents full-fledged panic over this rotation. It’s not that there remain 60 games to be played in this 60-game schedule. It’s that I’ve not yet read a quote from the front office or from the clubhouse on how desirable it is to “pitch to contact.’’