FORT MYERS, FLA. – Alex Colome recorded 42 saves in 2019 and 2020, second-most in the American League, and his 91.3% conversion rate also ranks second-best in the entire league.
Now the former White Sox closer walks onto a pitching staff run by a manager who has said he doesn't believe in having a ninth-inning saves specialist. Can Colome learn to love Rocco Baldelli?
Good news for the Twins: He already does.
"I feel comfortable and grateful that I'm here with him," said the 32-year-old righthander, who spent four seasons with Tampa Bay while Baldelli was a Rays coach. "He's always been someone open and welcoming. … Someone who listens to you, that's open to listening to you."
But Baldelli won't have to listen to Colome lobby for those ninth-inning opportunities, the newcomer said. "I don't have that in my mind that I have to be the closer or not. I'm just trying to help the team win," he said in a video conference after working out with his new teammates. "This is a good team and this is a good place to be at. That's where my mindset is right now."
That's where the manager's mindset is, too. The Twins already employ Taylor Rogers, who recorded only three fewer saves than Colome over the past two seasons, and they signed Hansel Robles, who racked up 23 saves in 2019, as a free agent as well.
It makes no sense to prioritize a statistic over asking the best pitcher to get the most important outs, regardless of inning, as Baldelli is quick to point out when asked about naming a closer. But it's an explanation he gives to more than just reporters — he makes his case to the pitchers themselves.
"We are going to continue to ask our guys to be ready to pitch, to be flexible and do what we need to do to win a ballgame," Baldelli said. "A lot of our guys will have some type of role — it just may not be specific [about] a particular inning."
Baldelli says he's never had a problem with a pitcher accepting that answer, probably because of "the fact that everyone already has a general understanding of the way we operate in Minnesota."
With this restructured staff, Baldelli said both Rogers and Colome can expect to be called upon to protect ninth-inning leads, "and I could see Robles finishing games for us at different points this year if we need him. … Our guys have proven they can flourish in this environment, with this sort of plan."
More data to analyze
Speaking of Rogers, the lefthander marveled at the Twins' new technology in spring camp, and said he is intrigued to see how detailed it can get in helping him refine his pitching motion.
"What we have now is the slow-mo of your hand, and it's attached to the data right next to it, so you can see the ball leaving your hand and what it's providing you data-wise," Rogers said. "I got a crash course on what the data says — 'The ball left at a three o'clock tilt, and it's moved like this, and that's why these numbers read this way. Basically, I told those guys I want to learn it and then try to figure out how to apply stuff. It's funny — they're so advanced, and I'm kind of tricking them, having them try to dumb it down for me."
But he believes he'll benefit by studying the numbers and what they mean. "It's the most exciting thing going on so far," he said.
Spin rates, for instance. "I learned mine are lower because I'm throwing sinkers and you want your spin rate lower, as opposed to [teammate Tyler] Duffey, who wants his higher at the top of the zone. To get your sink, it's got to be on a specific tilt," Rogers explained. "I've got some homework to do."
New to camp
Nine more players were cleared to take part in Sunday's workouts, including Duffey and free-agent signee Matt Shoemaker. Also in uniform for the first time on day two of spring training: Righthanders Jorge Alcala, Jhoan Duran, Ian Gibaut, Juan Minaya, Derek Law and Glenn Sparkman, plus lefthander Danny Coulombe.
That leaves four players still caught in the intake process: Lefthander J.A. Happ, who is quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19, and Andrew Albers, plus righthander Robinson Leyer and catcher Tomas Telis.