KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Like rotary phones or 8-track tapes, Rocco Baldelli occasionally marvels at how primitive life once seemed.
“Sometimes we look at each other when we’re talking, [saying] ‘Remember what it was like to play with a 25-man roster?’ ” the Twins manager said Sunday. “Now we’re sitting here with a 28-man roster, and there are days where it’s tough to make it work.”
Yes, those ancient roster limits of 2019 feel like a straitjacket to Baldelli, whose instincts for resting and protecting his players have been magnified by a season played with an abbreviated training camp. When Baldelli signaled in the seventh inning for righthanded reliever Cory Gearrin — a player hastily added to the roster only a couple of hours earlier — he was handing the ball to the 20th pitcher, and 35th player, to play for the Twins in only 16 games.
“We’re seeing this throughout baseball. Pitcher health in general has become just a huge topic of conversation,” Baldelli said. “We need to take care of our guys at every turn, that’s our starters and relievers. It applies to all of them.”
It’s not ideal, Baldelli admitted, especially since even with his precautions, the Twins have three pitchers on the injured list and another one who returned from it Saturday.
“There are times you want to let your starters go, [and] there are times you want to get your relievers up and pitch them [in] three of four,” Baldelli said. “But we also know that taking care of them, both near-term, immediate-term and long-term, it would probably be better to act the way we’re acting and just be proactive. Take care of them.”
It also means that the Twins’ 28-man roster — boosted during the pandemic from the expansion to 26 players that had already been planned — currently includes a whopping 16-man pitching staff. Baldelli said he would like to have a few more position players available on his bench, but it’s probably not possible during this coronavirus-altered season.
Gearrin finished the 2019 season with the Yankees, though he wasn’t on the postseason roster, and he began his career with three seasons playing for Atlanta teams that won at least 89 games each year. So he has been around success — and he believes he is again.
“This is an incredible team and a great group of guys with a real chance to win the whole thing, to win the World Series. I’m incredibly excited about that,” the 34-year-old Tennessee native said. “Being part of a bullpen like this also — I’ve been part of some good bullpens throughout the league, and this has as much talent, or more, than any group I’ve ever been a part of.”
He looked the part on Sunday, pitching two hitless innings in his debut for his seventh major league team, a 4-2 loss to the Royals. Gearrin is a sinkerball pitcher who frequently uses an unusual sidearm delivery. His 3.64 career ERA keeps getting him contracts every season, and the Twins brought him to camp in February.
Gearrin has been awaiting his chance on the team’s St. Paul-based squad of extra players, and when Baldelli and President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey decided Sunday to replace righthander Sean Poppen — who had thrown 66 pitches over three innings Friday and Saturday — the veteran got the call. Pretty exciting weekend for a guy who’s about to have more excitement in his life this season: His wife back in the Twin Cities is eight months pregnant.
“One of the interesting things in coming over to the Twins is, it’s such a smart organization. There are plenty of things I would say are my strengths, but there are things they’ve been able to identify and help me improve on just in the short time I’ve been here,” Gearrin said. “Not just, ‘Hey, you’ve got a really good sinker,’ but, ‘These are some other areas we think you’re really good at and you can lean on a little bit more.’
“That’s been really helpful. I’m really excited to put into practice some of the things we worked on.”
The start of Sunday’s game was delayed by 25 minutes by a late-morning rain that cleared up shortly before the scheduled 1:05 p.m. first pitch.