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Slegers unfazed by Red Sox's stars in ST debut

Right-hander: Top of Boston's order 'didn't intimidate me like it used to'
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After a breakout season at Triple-A Rochester and his first taste of the Majors last year, right-hander Aaron Slegers feels more comfortable facing top competition this season.

Slegers was tested in the Grapefruit League opener against the Red Sox on Friday, facing a lineup that included regulars such as Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Hanley Ramirez and Christian Vazquez, but he tossed two hitless innings while striking out two and walking one in the Twins' eventual 4-3 loss.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After a breakout season at Triple-A Rochester and his first taste of the Majors last year, right-hander Aaron Slegers feels more comfortable facing top competition this season.

Slegers was tested in the Grapefruit League opener against the Red Sox on Friday, facing a lineup that included regulars such as Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Hanley Ramirez and Christian Vazquez, but he tossed two hitless innings while striking out two and walking one in the Twins' eventual 4-3 loss.

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"That top of the order they threw out there didn't intimidate me like it used to," Slegers said. "If I would've faced that a year ago, maybe I would've gone about it a little bit differently. But now I know I can attack knowing I can pitch at the highest level."

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Slegers saw action in Grapefruit League play for the first time last year, posting a 6.75 ERA in 2 2/3 innings over three games. But he had a strong season at Triple-A Rochester, going 15-4 with a 3.40 ERA and 119 strikeouts and 29 walks in 148 1/3 innings. He also looked good in his Major League debut, allowing two runs on two hits over 6 1/3 innings against the Indians on Aug. 17, but he was used sparingly the rest of the year, finishing with a 6.46 ERA in four appearances.

Tweet from @Twins: Aaron Slegers Spring Training debut: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 SO #MNTwinsST pic.twitter.com/oOESunyq1Q

Slegers is expected to open the season with Rochester, but he could improve his stock with a solid spring to get back into the Majors for a second time.

"It doesn't feel like another hill, it feels like the same hill," Slegers said. "In Spring Training, you want to prove yourself as much as you can. It's the same feeling as last spring, but I have a little bit more comfort. I still want to prove myself every day."

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Slegers is pleased with his fastball command, but he said he's still working to get a better feel for his slider and changeup. He threw 18 strikes over 29 pitches, including first-pitch fastballs to five of the seven batters he faced. He had a 12-pitch battle with Bogaerts in the first that ended in a strikeout.

"He just kept pulling the ball foul," Slegers said. "I got him down 0-2 but fell behind and evened the count at 2-2 with a few of the off-speed stuff that I'm working on. That's always a secondary priority to commanding the fastball, and I got him on a two-seamer in."

Manager Paul Molitor noticed that Slegers was working on his fastball and liked what he saw from the 6-foot-10 right-hander.

"My impression was he was really trusting his fastball command," Molitor said. "He had that long at-bat with Bogaerts but just kept throwing that fastball until he found better spots."

Twins tidbits

The Twins and Red Sox both wore caps from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to show support for the Florida community that saw 17 people, including 14 students and three staff members, killed in a mass shooting on Feb. 14. The caps will be auctioned off to raise money for the Broward Education Foundation, which will benefit the official Stoneman Douglas Victims' Fund.

"That was extremely special," Slegers said. "I got chills during the moment of silence. Just all the people in the ballpark and realizing there's a lot of things going on that are bigger than baseball. Just to do one small token of support was pretty cool."

Tweet from @Twins: Today we honor the Parkland Community by joining teams across MLB to wear Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School caps during today���s game.Caps will be signed and auctioned off to benefit funds related to assisting the victims and families. pic.twitter.com/WNP6T4CkRf

• The Twins scored their first run on a bases-loaded walk from non-roster invitee Ryan LaMarre in the seventh. LaMarre later smacked a two-run single in the ninth. Jorge Polanco recorded the first hit of the spring for the Twins with a one-out single in the first.

• Shortstop prospect Nick Gordon, who had two hard-hit balls in Thursday's exhibition game, connected on a double in the ninth and was also hit by a pitch.

"He's got a little juice in his bat," Molitor said.

• Left-hander Dietrich Enns struggled, allowing three runs on three hits over 1 2/3 innings, and he couldn't finish the fourth inning. Right-hander John Curtiss also had a rough eighth inning, giving up an RBI double. But Molitor was impressed by what he saw from Rule 5 right-hander Tyler Kinley, who struck out two in a scoreless inning, and right-hander Felix Jorge, who has slowed down his delivery.

Up next

• Left-hander Adalberto Mejia, who is competing for a spot in the rotation, will take the mound against the Orioles on Saturday at 5:05 p.m. CT on Gameday Audio. Mejia surprisingly won a job last spring and is competing with veterans such as Phil Hughes and Anibal Sanchez. Other pitchers scheduled to see action include Fernando Romero, Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers, Ryan Pressly and Jake Reed.

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

Minnesota Twins, Aaron Slegers