BRADENTON, FLA. – Alex Wimmers has been known for his trusty changeup ever since the Twins selected the righthander in the first round in the 2010 draft out of Ohio State.
“I throw it at the beginning of counts, the middle of counts, the end of counts,” Wimmers said. “I’m going to throw it.”
He is trying to see if he can throw it in a major league stadium as soon as next week. Wimmers, who got a taste of the majors last season, finds himself still in big-league camp as the Twins finalize their 25-man roster to start the 2017 season.
The 28-year-old Wimmers has given up only two earned runs in nine innings of work this spring on eight hits and four walks while holding opponents to a .229 batting average.
Twins manager Paul Molitor, who would like to finalize his roster over the next couple of days, pointed at Wimmers’ time as a starter in the minor leagues and described him as someone who could pitch long relief if needed. While Wimmers’ changeup has been above average going back to his college days, he also has a slider and curveball to complement his low-90s fastball.
On Sunday, Wimmers touched 94 miles per hour with his fastball — it’s usually 90-93 mph — and flashed a changeup in the mid-to-upper 80s. He also mixed in a curveball that came in a 77 mph.
“He’s a had a really good camp,” Molitor said. “He throws all four pitches out of the bullpen, which makes him unique.”
That could make him a good fit. The Twins appear to have five of seven spots in the bullpen secure: Righthanders Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle, and lefthanders Craig Breslow and Taylor Rogers.
Rogers has left little doubt that he belongs in the bullpen. He pitched a scoreless eighth inning Monday during the Twins’ 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh and has a 1.64 ERA this spring.
“I have a lot of confidence in him,” Molitor said of Rogers, who made 57 relief appearances with the Twins as a rookie last season.
The release last week of veteran Ryan Vogelsong opened up a second opening in the bullpen.
Righthander Michael Tonkin has a 4.38 ERA this spring after pitching a scoreless seventh inning Monday — but Molitor pointed out his two-out walk. Tonkin is out of minor league options, and being out of options can me a tiebreaker sometimes. Rule 5 pick Justin Haley, also a righthander, has a 6.08 ERA this spring, making it hard for the Twins to keep him around. Haley would have to be offered back to the Red Sox if the Twins don’t put him on the 25-man roster.
Righthander Nick Tepesch will start Tuesday against Tampa Bay, but he also could be an option out of the bullpen.
And the Twins appear to prefer using righthander Tyler Duffey as a starter only. Molitor, before Monday’s game, pointed out that teams often end up calling up two to three more starters during the first month of the season. Last April, the Twins summoned five pitchers from Class AAA Rochester during the first month of the season, including starters Duffey, Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios.
So having depth is important. If Duffey doesn’t make the rotation — he is battling Adalberto Mejia for that role — he is likely headed to Class AAA Rochester to pitch out of the Red Wings rotation.
“That’s something you have to be aware of,” Molitor said. “You want multiple options if you need to go down there.”
And that could lead to the door cracking open for Wimmers, who has fought the good fight since battling severe control problems early in his professional career, then having Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in April 2012. One hurdle could be that he’s not on the 40-man roster, having been removed in November.
Still, Wimmers has made it to this point. There are plenty of pitchers now at the minor league camp who can’t boast that.
“I just focus on what I can control,” Wimmers said. “I’m just kind of go out there and compete when I can and see what happens. I’m just going to continue to be confident in my pitches and attack hitters like I always have.”