Watch starting pitchers closely this baseball season. Their managers will be.

Watch and you'll see some things you've never seen before. Very short starts. Six-man rotations. Maybe seven-man. And maybe this: getting to season's end with no pitchers topping 200 innings.

Innings pitched always has been a key factor in separating a good starting pitcher from an ace. Aces were horses, consistently pitching well — and deep into games.

Using innings to pass the ace test is more difficult now. In 2015, 28 pitchers threw at least 200 innings. From 2016 to '19, there were no more than 15 members of the 200-innings club in any season. Last year, MLB had to endure the pandemic games, and Lance Lynn's 84 innings led the major leagues.

Despite a plan to play 162 games, there might not be a single pitcher allowed to throw 200 innings this season for the first time. Teams are not horsing around when it comes to protecting their horses.

Teams are concerned about injury risks as they distance themselves from 2020. Last winter, pitchers started throwing programs in January. They were on their normal progression when spring games were halted last March. They did what they could to stay strong before ramping up again for what became a 60-game season.

Now, there are concerns that a start-stop-start 2020 can't be followed by normal workloads in 2021. Load management is about to peak in baseball. Teams are going to operate under an abundance of caution and monitor innings even more closely.

Several teams, including the Twins, Mariners, Tigers, Orioles, Royals and Marlins, have discussed using a six-man rotation. Pittsburgh recently signed Trevor Cahill to have a sixth starter. Skipping the fifth, or sixth, starter will go out the window. Off days or spot starters will be used to push an entire rotation back a day.

"With all of our pitchers coming off of a really short year, there could be some situations throughout the year where we give our guys a short break," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, "where we insert someone or something like that."

Let's watch the length of the leash this season. Will starters have their outings shortened right from the start? Will some pitchers get shut down once they reach 150, 160 innings? Will starting pitching prospects — the Twins have two good ones in righthanders Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran — be treated more delicately than ever since they spent last summer pitching in alternate training site games? Will some teams carry 14 pitchers in anticipation of load management?

"Having a year like last year is so different, so unique, something we have never experienced before," Mariners manager Scott Servais told Seattle reporters. "You have to be open to all ideas."

Looks like this is the wrong year to push for Jose Berrios or Kenta Maeda to meet the definition of a true ace.

Edwards' growth spurt

If you stayed up Thursday night, you were able to monitor Anthony Edwards' 41-point explosion at Phoenix and wonder what else is coming from the Timerwolves rookie guard. What was encouraging about Thursday's game was that Edwards went to the free-throw line a career-high 13 times.

It seems like the young man has been fouled many more times than what has been called. Once he's no longer treated like a rookie by officials, his production should pick up even more. The in-season growth is a good development for the Wolves.

And once Malik Beasley returns from his suspension and D'Angelo Russell returns from knee surgery, the Wolves will have another shooter and their primary playmaker in the lineup, and we'll get to see what Chris Finch can do with all his key players available.

Uniform rankings!

One thing that has been overlooked in the Twin Cities amid basketball coaches getting fired, the Wild's surge, NFL free agency and Edwards' scoring sprees: Minnesota United unveiled a new kit for 2021. That's a new uniform, for those of you non-hipsters.

For the first time, the Loons are wearing an all-light blue kit — they're calling the color Mississippi Blue — and it's gorgeous. It's a color they should have been allowed to embrace from Day 1, but Sporting Kansas City and New York City FC already sported them, so the Loons tried other schemes that I wasn't a fan of. But the new "River Kit" works.

I have moved the Loons to the top of my rankings of local pro uniforms: 1. Loons. 2. Twins. 3. Vikings. 4. Lynx. 5.Wolves. 6. Wild.

Funny how the teams that have worn some shade of powder/baby blue are at the top.

Calling it: Vikings will go OL in draft

There was no way the Vikings defense was going to be as poor as it was in 2020 with key players returning from injuries and Michael Pierce back after opting out of 2020. But coach Mike Zimmer isn't solely relying on returning vets. Most of the team's signings last week were defensive players, led by cornerback Patrick Peterson. So expect the Vikings to draft another offensive lineman early in the NFL draft.

Calling on Colome by season's end

The Twins have announced that they will have a few options to close games, from free agent Alex Colome to incumbent Taylor Rogers or even Tyler Duffey or Hansel Robles. That gives Baldelli more freedom to choose his closer based on matchups. But when it is all said and done, Colome will lead the team in saves, with Rogers several saves behind.

The 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions every Sunday — lneal@startribune.com Twitter: @LaVelleNeal