With just three weeks of camp before Opening Day, starting pitchers might not have their endurance built up enough to pitch deep into games.
Add in the expected intensity of an abbreviated 60-game schedule, and bullpens will have a significant impact as the season starts.
Not only do the Twins have a capable bullpen, pitching coach Wes Johnson got them to buy into not expecting to pitch in the same roles all year. That type of flexibility could be on display once the games begin.
“There are a few reasons why our bullpen is going to be relied upon and we’re going to be going to them often,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “One, I think we have one of the best bullpens in baseball, a group that is a true strength that you can really rely upon to really close the door in a lot of different situations.
“One of the best parts about them is not only are they talented and good at what they do, we’ve talked about the unselfish aspect of guys being in that very fluid situation where they’re going to get called upon in different roles and everyone is not going to have their particular role. We have a group that I don’t think is going to have any issue with that.”
Righthander Trevor May is mentally preparing to handle an expanded workload as soon as the regular season begins.
“In those two months, though, the relievers are going to work — some of us are going to work — probably a little more than a normal July, August, September,” May said. “Every game matters. You factor in the starters aren’t going to be stretched out immediately, and maybe not the first couple of weeks. There are going to be a lot of relievers pitching.”
The Twins also are facing a stretch of 36 games in 37 days, which will challenge the entire roster. Clubs will be able to begin the season with a 30-player roster before it is tapered to 26 after two weeks. That will help bullpens handle early workload demands.
Meanwhile, Twins starters are going through a second turn of live batting practice sessions. Kenta Maeda made his second such appearance on Friday, and said he threw 63 pitches.
“Hopefully by the end of summer camp I’m looking forward to throwing about 100 [pitches], and throwing over five innings,” Maeda said.
Even if Twins starters can handle 100 pitches early on, the bullpen will be needed to get several outs.
Masks during games?
Masks are not required when players are spread out across the field or when they are participating in intrasquad games. But a few position players have stepped into the batter’s box wearing them.
Could that happen once the games begin to count?
“Well, I’m going to try, but it’s kind of hard to breathe, especially when you’re running and you’re exercising more than normal,” Marwin Gonzalez said. “Probably, to hit, it’s OK, because you’re not doing much.
“But say that you’re playing in the outfield and you have to run to a ball down the lines. It’s going to be kind of difficult. We already tried this for a few days in practice and it’s kind of hard to breathe with the mask on, so I don’t know.
“We’re going to try as much as we can, but I don’t think a lot of people are going to wear [masks] while we’re on defense. Probably, when we are in the dugout, when we are hitting, probably yes. But I think for defense, it’s going to be tough to keep it on.”
Baldelli said he would not be surprised if a few of his players attempted to play games while masked.
“I’ve seen guys out here working out, I’ve seen guys catching with masks, running the bases, stretching, getting loose, playing catch,” Baldelli said.
“I’ve seen guys basically doing everything so far and we know that there are guys that have a heightened awareness and concern with the situation and I wouldn’t blame them for wearing a mask if they were comfortable.”
Head to head
The Twins did not hold an intrasquad game Friday, opting to have a recovery day. There was still live batting practice, with Maeda and lefthander Devin Smeltzer getting their work in.
There were a couple of long balls. LaMonte Wade Jr. planted one in the right field seats off Maeda, and Ryan Jeffers homered off Smeltzer.
But both pitchers had their moments, too. Maeda looked sharper than he did in his first live batting practice session, and Smeltzer, while mixing his pitches, showed off a hard breaking ball the Twins hope can be a bigger factor for him.
Righthanders Homer Bailey, Zack Littell, Tyler Duffey, Cody Stashak and Jorge Alcala also threw Friday.