ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Although he began the season touring the Southern League, Randy Rosario believed he was major league material.
“I was ready for it,” the 23-year-old, newly recalled Twins lefthander said. “I was waiting for it. I was saying to myself, ‘Randy, just be ready for it.’ ”
Confidence is one characteristic that jumps out with Rosario. He is bright, has worked hard to learn English and made a quick transition to the bullpen after making 55 starts in the minors from the time he was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 until the middle of last season.
It also helps to have a fastball that can reach 94 miles per hour and a wipeout slider. That will give you confidence, too — and encourage a team like the Twins to give a Class AA pitcher a chance in the majors.
So Rosario wasn’t that surprised when he was called up from Chattanooga on Thursday. And when asked to pitch two innings with a nine-run lead against the Angels on Friday, he was unfazed when he stood on the mound and saw Albert Pujols digging in.
Pujols was stuck on 599 home runs at the time — and was facing a rookie making his major league debut.
“Before I came to the United States, I was watching Pujols and seeing him hit bombs all the time,” Rosario said of his fellow Dominican. “I said I hope I can pitch to him one day in my life. It’s a dream come true. It was very good.”
Rosario got ahead 0-2 on Pujols before getting the future Hall of Famer to ground out to third. Good result, right?
“I wanted to face him, but I wanted to strike him out,” Rosario said. “Then I feel better.”
Rosario did give up a home run to Danny Espinosa in the ninth inning, when he said he was trying to do too much and overthrew a few pitches. But his outing, which completed an 11-5 Twins victory, enabled other worn-out relievers to rest their arms. The Twins plan to take advantage of Rosario’s ability to eat innings.
“Aside from having weapons to get major league hitters out, we felt that Randy could give us three to six outs as a result of being extended in a number of his outings at Chattanooga,” General Manager Thad Levine said.
In May, Chattanooga was in Biloxi, Miss., for a five-game series and lost the first four. Lookouts manager Jake Mauer gathered the team for a pep talk.
“We had a conversation as a team in Biloxi, of all places, about how close these guys are to the major leagues,” Mauer said. “And some of things we need to do while being aware that some guys are just a phone call away.”
The Twins were about to head to Baltimore, where they swept the Orioles. But they came back home and watched their bullpen get used up during a 15-inning loss to Tampa Bay on May 28, followed by the Memorial Day mauling by Houston the next day and the 17-6 debacle at the hands of the Astros on Wednesday.
Already running out of options, the Twins looked at Chattanooga and focused on Rosario, who had given up only five earned runs in 23 ⅔ innings this season.
“In an ideal world, we would like to see players continue their development at [Class AAA] Rochester before matriculating to the big leagues,” Levine said. “That being said, the major league season rarely plays out in an idyllic fashion.”
After meeting with members of the minor league staff — including Brad Steil, the Twins’ director of minor league operations — the team decided to give Rosario his chance.
Chattanooga, playing in Birmingham, Ala., at the time, was holding a presentation for outfielder Edgar Corcino, who had just passed his U.S. citizenship test and also found out he was having a son.
“We were going to talk about that in front of the team,” Mauer said, “and [we] literally got the call that Randy was going up.”
It was true — they were just a call away.
Rosario joined a relatively rare group of Twins who have made the jump from Class AA to the majors. It also includes Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Aaron Hicks, Eric Milton, Brad Radke and, of course, Mauer’s little brother Joe. The only recent player to make a bigger jump was shortstop Jorge Polanco, who was called up from Class A Fort Myers in 2014 when the club was shorthanded.
Sometimes elite prospects, as Sano and Buxton were, will land on the express past Rochester. In many cases, it happens when a team no one else to turn to. That’s how Rosario is getting his chance.
“I want to help my team,” Rosario said. “I feel like we can win more games now. I want to do my best every day. So we will see.”