WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. – Remember the Twins’ longtime catcher, a former quarterback who gave up football in order to catch for more than a decade but then had to retire last fall because of an injury he sustained behind the plate? He’s accepted a new and crucial job with the team.
Oh, wait. Not that guy.
Nate Dammann, the Twins’ extra catcher since 2007, will be stationed in the clubhouse instead of the bullpen beginning this season, watching games intently on high-tech video equipment. He is the new Twins video coordinator, charged with quickly examining replays and advising manager Rocco Baldelli whether to challenge an umpire’s call.
“It’s an important job, and Nate has worked hard to get up to speed on everything,” Baldelli said. “I feel pretty comfortable with where we’re at with replays.”
Dammann is mostly relieved. The middle finger on his left hand grew numb midway though last season, and it became constantly painful shortly after the season ended. He was diagnosed with nerve damage in his finger, the result of years of catching, hundreds of thousands of major league fastballs pounding into his glove.
“In the cold, it still bothers me,” said Dammann, hired by the Twins shortly after graduating from Hamline, where he was quarterback and team captain for three years. “I didn’t really know what I would do next.”
The Twins did. Corey Baker, who handled the replay machines last season, had retired, and General Manager Thad Levine said they were looking for someone with good judgment to replace him. When Dammann informed the team he had to give up catching, Levine said, the Twins realized he was a perfect fit.
“Nate has a thirst for learning. He spent a lot of time upstairs talking to our analytics guys, and he’s spent time really diving into video with our advance group,” Levine said. “He’s one of those guys who is a little bit behind the scenes and you don’t truly appreciate the magnitude of his impact until you talk to everybody. The endorsements for him came from Paul Molitor, from Derek Shelton, from Joe Mauer.”
Dammann plans to visit MLB’s New York nerve center to better understand what replay umpires look for. He also knows he will be under constant pressure — managers have only 30 seconds to challenge a call — and will have to maintain objectivity.
“I’m going to look at it not through the eyes of the Twins but someone watching the game impartially,” he said. “I can’t waste a challenge on something that I want to happen instead of what actually did happen.”
Tough on pitchers
The Twins used three of their better pitching prospects Saturday, and none had the success they wanted. Kohl Stewart gave up a pair of runs on three hits and three walks in 2⅔ innings; Jake Reed surrendered a two-run homer to Kurt Suzuki; and Lewis Thorpe gave up four runs on four hits and a walk, the last hit Brandon Snyder’s tiebreaking grand slam in the 10-6 loss to Washington.
But Baldelli said he wasn’t discouraged by the difficulty his rookies had with one of the best hitting teams in the NL.
“The most important thing I’m watching, besides just getting them the innings they need, is how we respond when we don’t get the results we want,” Baldelli said. “Those guys kept battling, which is all you want to see right now.”
They are scheduled for only three innings apiece, but Sunday’s matchup with the Phillies at Hammond Stadium features Jose Berrios going against Jake Arrieta. Across Fort Myers, a split-squad team headed by Stephen Gonsalves will take on the Red Sox.